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James Otis The Pre-Revolutionist

by John Clark Ridpath

November, 1996 [Etext #722]

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Great Americans of History

JAMES OTIS THE PRE-REVOLUTIONIST

BY JOHN CLARK RIDPATH, LL.D. AUTHOR OF A "Cyclopaedia of


Universal History," "Great Races of Mankind," "Life and Times of
William E. Gladstone," etc., etc.

THE CHARACTER OF JAMES OTIS BY CHARLES K. EDMUNDS, Ph.D.

WITH AN ESSAY ON THE PATRIOT BY G. MERCER ADAM Late Editor


"Self-Culture" Magazine, Etc., Etc.

TOGETHER WITH ANECDOTES, CHARACTERISTICS, AND CHRONOLOGY

Near the northeast corner of the old Common of Boston a section


of ground was put apart long before the beginning of the
eighteenth century to be a burying ground for some of the heroic
dead of the city of the Puritans. For some quaint reason or
caprice this acre of God was called "The Granary" and is so
called to this day. Perhaps the name was given because the dead
were here, garnered as grain from the reaping until the bins be
opened at the last day's threshing when the chaff shall be driven
from the wheat.

Here the thoughtless throng looking through the iron railing may
see the old weather-beaten and time-eaten slabs with their
curious lettering which designate the spots where many of the men
of the pre-revolutionary epoch were laid to their last repose.
The word cemetery is from Greek and means the little place where
I lie down.

In the Granary Burying Ground are the tombs of many whom history
has gathered and recorded as her own. But history looks in vain
among the blue-black slabs of semi-slate for the name of one who
was greatest perhaps of them all; but whose last days were so
strangely clouded and whose sepulchre was so obscure as to leave
the world in doubt for more than a half century as to where the
body of the great sleeper had been laid. Curiosity, whetted by
patriotism, then discovered the spot. But the name of another
was on the covering slab, and no small token was to be found
indicative of the last resting place of the lightning-smitten
body of James Otis, the prophetic giant of the pre-revolutionary
days. He who had lived like one of the Homeric heroes, who had
died like a Titan under a thunderbolt, and had been buried as
obscurely as Richard the Lion Hearted, or Frederick Barbarossa,
must lie neglected in an unknown tomb within a few rods of the
spot where his eloquence aforetime had aroused his countrymen to
national consciousness, and made a foreign tyranny forever
impossible in that old Boston, the very name of which became
henceforth the menace of kings and the synonym of liberty.

Tradition rather than history has preserved thus much. In the


early part of the present century a row of great elms, known as
the Paddock elms, stood in what is now the sidewalk on the west
side of Tremont Street skirting the Granary Burying Ground.
These trees were cut away and the first section of the burial
space was invaded with the spade. Tomb No. 40, over which the
iron railing now passes, was divided down as far as where the
occupants are lying. Within the sepulchre were several bodies.
One was the body of Nathaniel Cunningham, Sr. Another was Ruth
Cunningham, his wife. The younger members of the family were
also there in death.

When the lid of one coffin in this invaded tomb was lifted, it
was found that a mass of the living roots of the old strong elm
near by had twined about the skull of the sleeper, had entered
through the apertures, and had eaten up the brain. It was the
brain of James Otis which had given itself to the life of the elm
and had been transformed into branch and leaf and blossom, thus
breathing itself forth again into the free air and the Universal
Flow.

The body of the patriot had been deposited in this tomb of his
father-in-law, the Nathaniel Cunningham just referred to, and
had there reposed until the searching fibres of another order of
life had found it out, and lifted and dispensed its sublimer part
into the viewless air. Over the grave in which the body was laid
is still one of the rude slabs which the fathers provided, and on
this is cut the name of "George Longley, 1809," he being the
successor of the Cunninghams in the ownership of Tomb No. 40.

Here, then, was witnessed the last transformation of the


material, visible man called James Otis, the courageous herald
who ran swinging a torch in the early dawn of the American
Revolution.
The pre-revolutionists are the Titans of human history; the
revolutionists proper are only heroes; and the
post-revolutionists are too frequently dwarfs and weaklings.
This signifies that civilization advances by revolutionary
stages, and that history sends out her tallest and best sons to
explore the line of march, and to select the spot for the next
camping-ground. It is not they who actually command the
oncoming columns and who seem so huge against the historical
background--it is not these, but rather the hoarse forerunners
and shaggy prophets of progress who are the real kings of men--
the true princes of the human empire.

These principles of the civilized life were strongly illustrated


in our War of Independence. The forerunners of that war were a
race of giants. Their like has hardly been seen in any other
epoch of that sublime scrimmage called history. Five or six
names may be selected from the list of the early American
prophets whose deeds and outcry, if reduced to hexameters, would
be not the Iliad, not the Jerusalem Delivered, but the Epic of
Human Liberty.

The greatest of these, our protagonists of freedom, was Benjamin


Franklin. After him it were difficult to name the second. It is
always difficult to find the second man; for there are several
who come after. In the case of our forerunners the second may
have been Thomas Jefferson; it may have been Samuel Adams; it may
have been his cousin; it may have been Thomas Paine; it may have
been Patrick Henry; it may have been James Otis, the subject of
this monograph.

It is remarkable to note how elusive are the lives of many great


men. Some of the greatest have hardly been known at all. Others
are known only by glimpses and outlines. Some are known chiefly
by myth and tradition. Nor does the effort to discover the
details of such lives yield any considerable results. There are
great names which have come to us from antiquity, or out of the
Middle Ages, that are known only as names, or only by a few
striking incidents. In some cases our actual knowledge of men
who are believed to have taken a conspicuous part in the drama of
their times is so meagre and uncertain that critical disputes
have arisen respecting the very existence of such personages.

Homer for example--was he myth or man? The Christ? Where was


he and how did he pass his life from his twelfth year to the
beginning of his ministry? What were the dates of his birth and
death? Shakespeare? Why should not the details of his life, or
some considerable portion of the facts, compare in plenitude and
authenticity with the events in Dr. Johnson's career?

It seems to be the law of biography that those characters who are


known to the world by a few brilliant strokes of genius have as a
rule only a meagre personal history, while they whose characters
have been built up painfully and slowly out of the commonplace,
like the coral islands of the Atlantic, have a great variety and
multitude of materials ready for the hands of the biographer.

James Otis belonged to the first of these classes. There is a


measure of elusiveness about his life. Our lack of knowledge
respecting him, however, is due in part to the fact that near the
close of his life, while he was oscillating in a half-rational
condition between Andover and Boston, with an occasional visit to
Plymouth, he fell into a fit of pessimism and despair during
which he spent two days in obliterating the materials for his
biography, by destroying all his letters and manuscripts. He did
as much as he could to make impossible any adequate account of
his career or any suitable revelation of his character as
developed in his correspondence. Over and above this, however,
the materials of his life are of small extent, and fragmentary.
It is to his formal publications and the common tradition of what
he did, that we must turn for our biographical and historical
estimate of the man. In this respect he is in analogy with
Patrick Henry who appears only fitfully in history, but with
meteoric brilliancy; or with Abraham Lincoln the narrative of
whose life for the first forty-five years can be adequately
written in ten pages.

The American Otises of the seventeenth century were of English


descent. The emigration of the family from the mother country
occurred at an early day when the settlements in New England were
still infrequent and weak. The Otis family was among the first
to settle at the town of Hingham. Nor was it long until the name
appeared in the public records, indicating official rank and
leadership. From Hingham, John Otis, who was born in 1657,
ancestor of the subject of this sketch, removed to Barnstable,
near the center of the peninsula of Massachusetts, and became one
of the first men of that settlement. He was sent to the
Legislature and thence to the Council of the Colony in which he
had a seat for twenty-one years. During this period he was
promoted to the place of Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, and
while holding this important place he was also judge of the
Probate Court. The family rose and flourished in reputation.

In 1702, James Otis, son of Judge John Otis, was born. He


followed in his father's footsteps becoming a lawyer and colonial
publicist, afterwards a colonel of the militia, a judge of the
Common Pleas, a judge of the Probate Court, and a member of the
Council of Massachusetts. Just after reaching his majority
Colonel Otis took in marriage Mary Alleyne, and of this union
were born thirteen children. The eldest was a son, and to him
was given his father's name. It was to this child that destiny
had assigned the heroic work of confronting the aggressions of
Great Britain on the American colonists, and of inspiring the
latter to forcible resistance.

James Otis, Junior, was born at a place called Great Marshes, now
known as West Barnstable, on the 5th of February, 1725. He
inherited from his father and grandfather not only a large
measure of talents but also a passion for public life which
impelled him strongly to the study and solution of those
questions which related to the welfare of the American colonies,
and to the means by which their political independence might be
ultimately secured.

The character and intellect of Colonel Otis of Barnstable were


transmitted to other members of his family also. The daughter
Mercy, oldest sister of James Otis, was married to James Warren
who made his home at Plymouth. This lady had her brother's
passion for politics--an enthusiasm which could hardly be
restrained. She wrote and conversed in a fiery manner on the
revolutionary topics of the day. Almost coincidently with the
Battle of Bunker Hill she composed and published (without her
name, however,) a biting satire on the colonial policy of Great
Britain, calling her brochure "The Group." Fifteen years
afterwards she published a volume of poems, mostly patriotic
pieces, and finally in 1805 a brief "History of the American
Revolution," which was considered a reputable work after its
kind.

Samuel Alleyne Otis, youngest brother of James, outlived nearly


all the other members of the family, and was recognized as a
prominent political leader. He, also, had the strong patriotic
and revolutionary bent of the family, was popular and
influential, and was honored with a long term of service as
Secretary of the Senate of the United States. In this capacity
he participated, April 30, 1789, in the inauguration of
Washington, holding the Bible on which the Father of his Country
took the oath of office. The other brothers and sisters were of
less conspicuous ability, and were not so well known to their own
and other times.

In New England in the first half of the eighteenth century the


sentiment of education was universal. Among the leading people,
the sentiment was intense. Colonel Otis, of Barnstable, was
alert with respect to the discipline and development of his
children. He gave to them all, to the sons especially, the best
advantages which the commonwealth afforded. James Otis was
assigned to the care of Reverend Jonathan Russell, the minister
at Barnstable, who prepared the youth for college. By the middle
of his fifteenth year he was thought to be ready for
matriculation. He was accordingly entered as a freshman at
Harvard, in June, 1739.

Of the incidents of his preceding boyhood, we know but little. A


tradition exists that he was more precocious than diligent; that
his will was strong; that his activities were marked with a
reckless audacity, which, however, did not distinguish him much
from the other promising New England boys of his age. Something
of these characteristics are noticeable in his college career.
At Harvard he showed an abundance of youthful spirits; a strong
social disposition, and a well-marked discrimination between his
friends and his enemies. At times he applied himself
assiduously, and at other times mused and read rather than
studied. On the whole he did not greatly distinguish himself as
a student. His passion for literature was marked, and he became
conspicuous for his forensic abilities. Towards the end of his
course, his character as a student was intensified, and he was
not often seen away from his books. Out of term time, he would
return to his father's home taking his books with him. At such
times he was rarely seen by his former companions of Barnstable,
because of his habit of secluding himself for study.

It is narrated that at this period of his life, young Otis gave


strong evidence of the excitable temperament with which he was
endowed. In the intervals of his study his nervous system, under
the stimulus of games or controversial dispute, would become so
tense with excitement as to provoke remark. Nor may we in the
retrospect fail to discover in this quality of mind and temper
the premonitions of that malady which finally prevailed over the
lucid understanding, and rational activities of James Otis.

The youth did not much effect social accomplishments. He had a


passion for music and learned to play the violin. With this
instrument he was wont to entertain himself in the intervals of
study. Sometimes he would play for company. It was one of his
habits to break off suddenly and rather capriciously in the midst
of what he was doing. Thus did he with his music. It is
narrated that on a certain occasion while playing by invitation
for some friends, he suddenly put aside the instrument, saying in
a sort of declamatory manner as was his wont--

"So fiddled Orpheus and so danced the brutes."

He then ran into the garden, and could not be induced to play the
violin again.

Young Otis passed through the regular classes at Harvard and was
graduated in 1743. On that occasion he took part in a
disputation which was one of the exercises of his class.
Otherwise his record at the college is not accented with any
special work which he did. At the time of his graduation he was
in his nineteenth year. It had been his father's purpose and his
own that his profession should be the law. It does not appear,
however, that his college studies were especially directed to
this end. At any rate, he did not devote himself at once to the
law, but assiduously for two years (1743-45) to a general course
of study chosen and directed by himself with a view to the
further discipline of his mind and the widening of his
information. It was an educational theory with Otis that such an
interval of personal and spontaneous application should intervene
between a young man's graduation and the beginning of his
professional career. Having pursued this course with himself he
insisted that his younger brother, Samuel Alleyne Otis, should
take the same course. In one of his letters to his father--a
communication fortunately rescued from the holocaust of his
correspondence--he discusses the question and urges the
propriety of the young man's devoting a year or two to general
study before taking up his law books. An extract from the letter
will prove of interest. The writer says: "It is with sincerest
pleasure I find my brother Samuel has well employed his time
during his residence at home. I am sure you don't think the time
long he is spending in his present course of studies; since it is
past all doubt they are not only ornamental and useful, but
indispensably necessary preparatories for the figure I hope one
day, for his and your sake, as well as my own, to see him make in
the profession he is determined to pursue. I am sure the year
and a half I spent in the same way, after leaving the academy,
was as well spent as any part of my life; and I shall always
lament I did not take a year or two further for more general
inquiries in the arts and sciences, before I sat down to the
laborious study of the laws of my country.
"My brother's judgment can't at present be supposed to be ripe
enough for so severe an exercise as the proper reading and well
digesting the common law. Very sure I am, if he would stay a
year or two from the time of his degree, before he begins with
the law, he will be able to make better progress in one week,
than he could now, without a miracle, in six. Early and short
clerkships, and a premature rushing into practice, without a
competent knowledge in the theory of law, have blasted the hopes,
and ruined the expectations, formed by the parents of most of the
students in the profession, who have fallen within my observation
for these ten or fifteen years past."

The writer of this well-timed communication then adds in proof of


his position, the names of several distinguished jurists who
postponed the beginning of their legal studies, or at least their
legal practice, to a time of life quite beyond the conventional
student period. Mr. Otis then declares his conviction that a
young man may well procrastinate his legal studies until he shall
have attained the age of thirty or even of forty years. He
declares his belief that such postponement will as a rule lead to
better result than can be attained by a youth who begins at
twenty, however brilliant his genius may be.

This view of the case was with James Otis both theory and
practice. He began his legal studies in 1745. In that year he
became a law student under the tuition of Jeremiah Gridley who at
that time was already regarded as one of the most able and
accomplished lawyers in Massachusetts. Preceptor and student
were at the first in accord in their political and social
principles. At the time of the young man's law course, Gridley
was a member of the General Court of Massachusetts. He belonged
to the party called Whig; for the political jargon of Great
Britain had infected the Americans also, and they divided
according to the names and principles of the British partisans of
the period.

Judge Gridley, while he remained on the bench, took sides with


the colonists in their oncoming contention with the mother
country. Afterwards, however, by accepting the appointment of
Attorney General he became one of the king's officers, and it was
in this relation that he was subsequently brought face to face
with his distinguished pupil in the trial of the most remarkable
case which preceded the Revolutions.

Mr. Otis devoted two years of time to his legal studies before
beginning the practice of his profession. The study of law at
that time was much more difficult than at the present day. The
student was obliged to begin de novo with the old statutes and
decisions, and to make up the science for himself by a difficult
induction, which not many young men were able to do successfully.

Law text-books were virtually unknown. Otis did not even have
access to "Blackstone's Commentaries." No authoritative works on
evidence or pleading existed in the English language.

The student must get down his Acts of Parliament, his decisions
of the King's Bench, his Coke, his black-letter dissertations on
the common law, and out of these construct the best he could a
legal system for himself. To this work Mr. Otis devoted himself
from 1745 to 1747, after which he left the office of Judge
Gridley and went to Plymouth, where he applied for admission to
the bar, and was accepted by the court. He began to practice in
1748--the year of the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, when the
political and historical status of Europe was again fixed for a
brief period.

The young attorney almost immediately took rank at the Plymouth


bar. The old records of the court at that place still show the
frequent appearance of Otis for one or the other of the parties.
In this manner were passed the years 1748 and 1749. It does not
appear that at this time he concerned himself very much with the
affairs of the town or the larger affairs of the commonwealth.
The tax records show his name with an entry to the effect that in
1748 he estimated his personal estate at twenty pounds besides
his "faculty," by which was meant, his professional value.

A few incidents of this period in Otis's life have come down by


tradition. He soon made a favorable impression on the court and
bar. He gained the good opinion of his fellows for both ability
and integrity of character. This reputation he carried with him
to Boston, whither he removed early in the year 1750. He had
already acquired sufficient character to bring his services into
requisition at places somewhat distant from Plymouth.

His reception in Boston was accordingly favorable. Beyond the


limits of the colony he became known as an advocate. He was sent
for in important cases, and showed such signal ability as to
attract the admiring attention of both court and people. Already
at the conclusion of his twenty-fifth year he was a young man of
note, rising to eminence.

There was good ground for this reputation in both his principles
of conduct and his legal abilities. From the first he avoided
the littleness and quibble which are the bane of the bar. He had
a high notion of what a lawyer should be and of the method and
spirit in which he should conduct his cases. He had as much
dignity as audacity, a sense of justice as keen as the purpose
was zealous in pursuing it.

It came to be understood in the courts of Boston when Otis


appeared as an advocate that he had a case and believed in it.
He avoided accepting retainers in cases, of the justice of which
he was in doubt. Pursuing this method, he was sometimes involved
in law-suits in which he was constrained to turn upon his own
client.

The story goes of one such instance in which he brought suit for
the collection of a bill. Believing in his client and in the
justice of the claim, he pressed the matter in court and was
about to obtain a judgment when he accidentally discovered, among
his client's papers, a receipt which the plaintiff had signed for
the very claim under consideration. Through some mistake the
receipt had again got back into the man's possession, and he had
taken advantage of the fact to institute a suit for the
collection of the claim a second time.
Seeing through the matter at once, Otis took the plaintiff aside,
confronted him with the receipt and denounced him to his face as
a rascal. The man gave down and begged for quarter, but Otis was
inexorable; he went back to the bar and stated to the court that
reasons existed why the case of his client should be dismissed.
The court, presided over by Judge Hutchinson, afterward
Lieutenant-Governor and Chief Justice of Massachusetts, expressed
its surprise at the turn of affairs, complimented Otis for his
honorable course as an advocate, commended his conduct to the
bar, and dismissed the case.

With the spread of his reputation Mr. Otis was summoned on legal
business to distant parts. On one occasion he was called to
Halifax to defend some prisoners under arrest for piracy;
believing them to be innocent he convinced the court in an
eloquent plea and secured the acquittal of the prisoners.

On another occasion he was summoned to Plymouth to defend some


citizens of that town who had become involved in a riot on the
anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot. It was the custom in the New
England towns to observe this day with a mock procession, in
which effigies representing the Pope, the Old Bad One, and James
the Pretender, were carried through the streets to be consigned
at the end to a bonfire. In this instance violence was done by
some of the participants; windows were smashed, gates were broken
down, etc. Mr. Otis conducted the defense, showing that the
arrested persons taking part in a noisy anniversary, and
committing acts that were innocent in spirit, if not innocent per
se, ought not to be adjudged guilty of serious misdemeanor. This
plea prevailed and the young men were acquitted.

It is to be greatly regretted that the legal pleas and addresses


of James Otis have not been preserved. A volume of his speeches
would reveal not only his style and character, but also much of
the history of the times. The materials, however, are wanting.
He kept a commonplace book in which most of his business letters
of the period under consideration were recorded. But these give
hardly a glimpse at the man, the orator, or his work. Tradition,
however, is rife with the myth of his method and manner. He was
essentially an orator. He had the orator's fire and passion;
also the orator's eccentricities--his sudden high flights and
transitions, his quick appeals and succession of images.

To these qualities of the orator in general Otis added the power


of applying himself to the facts; also the power of cogent
reasoning and masterful search for the truth which gained for him
at length the fame of first orator of the revolution. The
passion and vehemence of the man made him at times censorious and
satirical. His manner towards his opponents was at times hard to
bear. His wit was of that sarcastic kind which, like a hot wind,
withers its object.

All of these dispositions seemed to increase his power and to


augment his reputation, but they did not augment his happiness.
His character as an advocate and as a man came out in full force
during the first period of his Boston practice; that is, in the
interval from 1750 to 1755.
On attaining his thirtieth year Mr. Otis came to the event of his
marriage. He took in union, in the spring of 1755, Ruth
Cunningham, daughter of a Boston merchant. From one point of
view his choice was opportune, for it added to his social
standing and also to his means. From another aspect, however,
the marriage was less fortunate.

The Cunningham family was not well grounded in the principles of


patriotism. The timid commercial spirit showed itself in the
father, and with this the daughter sympathized. The sharp line
of division between patriotism and loyalty had not yet been drawn
--as it was drawn five years afterward. But it began to be drawn
very soon after the marriage with serious consequences to the
domestic peace of the family.

It appears that beside this general cause of divergence, the


staid and unenthusiastic character of Mrs. Otis rather chilled
the ardor of the husband, and he, for his part, by his vehemence
and eccentricity, did not strongly conciliate her favor. There
were times of active disagreement in the family, and in later
years the marriage was rather a fact than a principle.

The result of Mr. Otis's marriage was a family of one son and two
daughters. The son, who was given his father's name, showed his
father's characteristics from childhood, and certainly a measure
of his genius. The lad, however, entered the navy at the
outbreak of the Revolution, became a midshipman, and died in his
eighteenth year. The oldest daughter, Elizabeth, went wholly
against her father's grain and purpose. Just before the
beginning of the Revolution, but after the case had been clearly
made up, she was married to a certain Captain Brown, at that time
a British officer in Boston, cordially disliked, if not hated, by
James Otis. Personally, Brown was respectable, but his cause was
odious. He was seriously wounded in the Battle of Bunker Hill.
Afterwards he was promoted and was given a command in England.
Thither his wife went with him, and Mr. Otis discarded them both,
if not with anathema at least with contempt.

It would appear that his natural affection was blotted out. At


least his resentment was life-long, and when he came to make his
will he described the circumstances and disinherited Elizabeth
with a shilling. The fact that Mrs. Otis favored the unfortunate
marriage, and perhaps brought it about--availing herself as it
is said, of one of Mr. Otis's spells of mental aberration to
carry out her purposes--aggravated the difficulty and made her
husband's exasperation everlasting.

The younger daughter of the family shared her father's


patriotism. She was married to Benjamin Lincoln, Jr., a young
lawyer of Boston, whose father was General Benjamin Lincoln of
revolutionary fame. The marriage was a happy one, but ultimately
clouded with honorable grief. Two promising sons were born, but
each died before reaching his majority. The father also died
when he was twenty-eight years old. The wife and mother resided
in Cambridge, and died there in 1806.

The second period in James Otis's life may be regarded as


extending from 1755 to 1760; that is, from his thirtieth to his
thirty-fifth year. It was in this period that he rose to
eminence. Already distinguished as a lawyer, he now became more
distinguished as a civilian and a man of public affairs.

He caught the rising interest as at the springing of the tide,


and rose with it until it broke in lines of foam along the shores
of New England. He gained the confidence of the patriot party,
of which he was the natural leader. His influence became
predominant. He was the peer of the two Adamses, and touched
hands right and left with the foremost men of all the colonies.

It surprises us to note that at this time James Otis devoted a


considerable section of his time to scholastic and literary
pursuits. He was a student not only of men and affairs but of
books. Now it was that the influence of his Harvard education
was seen in both his studies and his works. We are surprised to
find him engaged in the composition of a text-book which is still
extant, and, however obsolete, by no means devoid of merits. The
work was clearly a result left on his mind from his student days.

He composed and, in the year 1760, published, by the house of B.


Mecom in Boston, a 72 page brochure entitled "The Rudiments of
Latin Prosody with a Dissertation on Letters and the Principles
of Harmony in Poetic and Prosaic Composition, collected from some
of the best Writers."

The work is primarily a text in Latin Prosody in which the author


thought himself to improve on the existing treatises on that
subject. The afterpart of the pamphlet is devoted to a curious
examination of the qualities of the letters of the Greek and
Roman alphabets.

In this he attempts to teach the distinction between quantity and


accent in the Greek language, but more particularly to describe
the position and physiological action of the organs of speech in
producing the elementary sounds in the languages referred to.
The author declares his conviction that the growth of science had
been seriously impeded by the inattention of people to the
correct utterance of elementary sounds. He also points out the
great abuses in the prevailing methods and declares that these
abuses have so impeded the work of education "that many have
remained children all their days."

Having written and published his work on Latin prosody, Mr. Otis
next produced a similar work on the prosody of Greek. This,
however, he did not publish, and he is said to have destroyed the
manuscript at the time of burning his correspondence near the end
of his life.

A conversation of James Otis is narrated by Francis Bowen, in


Jared Sparks's "American Biography" in which the orator is
represented, in speaking of the bad literary taste prevalent
among the boys of the time, as saying, "These lads are very fond
of talking about poetry and repeating passages of it. The poets
they quote I know nothing of; but do you take care, James, [Otis
was addressing James Perkins, Esq., of Boston] that you don't
give in to this folly. If you want to read poetry, read
Shakespeare, Milton, Dryden and Pope and throw all the rest into
the fire; these are all that are worth reading." In this brief
comment the severity of Otis's literary taste is indicated and
also something of the rather abrupt and dogmatic character of his
mind. His criticism, though true, can hardly be said to be
judicious.

In order to understand the part which James Otis played in the


great work of revolution and independence it is now necessary to
note with care the conditions into which he was cast and with
which he was environed at that period of his life when the
man-fire flames highest and the audacity of the soul bounds
furthest into the arena of danger.

Every man is the joint product of himself and his environment.


His life is the resultant of the two forces by which he is held
and balanced. At the time when James Otis reached his
thirty-fifth year a condition had supervened in the American
colonies which reacted upon his passionate and Patriotic nature
so powerfully as to bring into full play all of his faculties and
to direct the whole force of his nature against the tyrannical
method of the mother country.

Let us look for a moment at the course of events which had


preceded and which succeeded the crisis in James Otis's life, and
made him the born leader of his countrymen in their first
conflict for independence.

Great Britain had aforetime permitted the American colonists to


plant themselves where, when, and as they would. Almost every
colonial settlement had been an adventure. The emigrants from
the other side of the Atlantic had been squeezed out by the hard
discipline of church and state. In America they settled as they
might.

"And England didn't look to know or care."

In the language of one of the bards of this age,

"That is England's awful way of doing business."

She permitted her persecuted children to brave the intolerable


ocean in leaking ships, to reach the new world if they could, and
survive if they might.

Notwithstanding this hard strain on the sentiment of the


Pilgrims, the Cavaliers, and the Hugenots, they remained loyal to
the mother country. They built their little states in the
wilderness and were proud to christen their towns and villages
with the cherished names of the home places in England. They
defended themselves as well as they could against the
inhospitality of nature, the neglect of the mother country, and
the cruelty of savage races.

It was only when they grew and multiplied and flourished that our
little seashore republics attracted the attention of the mother
land and suggested to the ministers of the crown the possibility
of plucking something from the new states which had now
demonstrated their ability to exist and to yield an increase.
Meanwhile, for six generations, the colonists had developed their
own social affairs and managed their own civil affairs according
to the exegencies of the case and the principles of democracy.
Their methods of government were necessarily republican.

The military necessities which were ever at the door had taught
our fathers the availability of arms as the final argument in the
debate with wrong. The conflicts with the Indians and the
experiences of the French and Indian war had shown that the
Americans were able to hold their own in battle.

Under these conditions there was a natural growth of public


opinion in the colonies tending to independence of action, and to
indignant protest against foreign dictation. In the sixth decade
of the eighteenth century many of the leading young men of
America talked and wrote of independence as a thing desirable and
possible.

In 1755, when James Otis was thirty years of age, his young
friend, John Adams, sitting one day in his school house in
Connecticut, wrote this in his diary: "In another century all
Europe will not be able to subdue us. The only way to keep us
from setting up for ourselves is to disunite us."

We thus note natural conditions as tending to produce a rebellion


of the American colonies; also the inherited disposition of the
colonists under the discipline of their times; also the growth of
public opinion among the leading spirits--to which we must add
the character of the reigning king and of the ministers to whom
he entrusted his government as the general conditions antecedent
to the revolutionary movement of our fathers.

But there were more immediate and forceful causes which operated
to the same end. Among these should be mentioned as a prevailing
influence the right of arbitrary government claimed by Great
Britain and at length resisted by the colonists. The right of
arbitrarily controlling the American states was shown in a number
of specific acts which we must here discuss.

The first of these was the old Navigation Act of 1651. The
measure adopted by the government of Cromwell had never been
strenuously enforced. It was the peculiarity of all the early
legislation of Great Britain relative to the colonies that it was
either misdirected or permitted to lapse by disuse.

The colonies thus literally grew, with little home direction.


After the navigation act had been nominally in force for
eighty-two years it was revived and supplemented by another
measure known as the Importation Act.

This statute, dating from the year 1733, was intended to be an


actual device for controlling the commercial relations with the
colonies. By the terms of the Act heavy duties were laid on all
the sugar, molasses, and rum which should be imported into the
colonies. The customs were exorbitant and were from the first
evaded as far as possible by the American merchants.
This may be regarded as the first actual breach of justice on the
one side and good faith on the other, as between the home
government and the American dependencies of Great Britain.

The reader will note that the question at issue was from the
first commercial. It was a question of taking something from the
colonists and of giving no equivalent, either in value or
political rights. Had the American colonists been willing to be
taxed and searched without an equivalent, then would there have
been no revolution.

It will be noted from the nature of the question that the issue,
since it was a matter of the merchants, was also a matter of the
cities. For the merchant and the city go together. With the
country folk of the pre-revolutionary era, the faultfinding and
dispute related always to political questions proper--to
questions of rights as between the king and his subjects; to
questions of institutional forms, the best method of governing,
etc.

All of these matters, however, could have been easily adjusted,


and if there were an "if" in history they would have been
adjusted without revolution and without independence. The
commercial question, however, involving money rights, and
implying the privilege and power of the Mother Country to take
from the Colonists their property, however small the amount,
could but engender resistance, and if the claim were not
relinquished could but lead to war and disruption.

The neglected growth of the Colonies had in the meantime


established in the seaboard towns of America, usages and customs
which were repugnant to British notions of regular and orderly
government. The commercial life had taken a form of its own.

The Americans had built ships and warehouses. They had engaged
in commerce as they would. They had made their trade as free as
possible. They had ignored the old Navigation Act, and when the
Importation Act was passed, it confronted a condition in America.

It applied to a state of affairs that already existed.

The American ship, trading with the West Indies and bringing back
to Boston a cargo of molasses or rum, was met at custom house
with an exorbitant requisition. The officer acting under the
Importation Act, virtually said, "Stand and deliver."

If it were a British ship the resistance to the duty would be


offered by the land merchants rather than by the sea traders; for
the merchants did not desire that the cost of the merchandise to
themselves and their customers should be doubled without some
equivalent advantage. No equivalent advantage was either visible
or invisible. What, therefore, should they do but first evade
and then openly resist?

There was an epoch of evasion. This covered a period of about


seventeen years, extending from 1733 to 1750. In the latter year
an act was passed by Parliament forbidding the erection of iron
works in America. The manufacture of steel was especially
interdicted. The measure which was in reality directed against
shipbuilding included a provision which forbade the felling of
pines outside of enclosures. It was thus sought by indirection
to prevent the creation of a merchant marine by the American
Colonists and to limit their commerce to British ships. This
measure like the Importation Act was also ignored and resisted.
For eleven years the Americans persisted in their usual course,
making iron, cutting pine timber and building ships, importing
molasses and rum, evading the duties, and thus getting themselves
into the category of smugglers.

It was this precise condition of affairs which led to a still


more stringent measure on the part of the home government. It
was determined in Parliament to put an end to the evasion and
resistance of the American merchants and importers with respect
to the existing laws. The customs should be collected. It was
deemed best, however, that the new measure should issue from the
judiciary.

An appeal was made to the Court of Exchequer in England for the


granting of search warrants to be issued in America by the king's
officers for the purpose of ferreting out contraband goods.
These warrants granted by the Court of Exchequer were the Writs
of Assistance, the name of which appears so frequently and with
so much odium in the colonial history of the times. These writs
were granted by the court under pressure of the ministry in the
year 1760.

The Writs of Assistance were directed to the officers of the


customs in America. But any officer could arm one of his
subordinates, or indeed any other person whom he should
designate, with one of the writs, and the person so appointed
might act in the name of the king's officer.

The thing to be done was the examination of any place and all
places where contraband goods might be supposed to be lodged.
Whether there were evidence or no evidence, the case was the
same. The document was a writ of arbitrary search.

Any house, public or private, might be entered at any time; any


closet or any cellar might be opened. Neither the bridal chamber
nor the room of the dead was sacred on the approach of any petty
customs constable or deputy in whose hands a Writ of Assistance
had been placed. The antecedent proceedings required no
affidavit or any other legal formality. The object was to lay
bare the whole privacy of a people on sheer suspicion of
smuggling.

It could hardly be supposed that our fathers would tamely submit


to such an odious and despotic procedure. To have done so would
have been to subscribe to a statute for their own enslavement.
Nor may we pass from the consideration of these writs and the
resistance offered thereto by the patriots of all our colonies
without noticing the un-English character of these laws.

Of a certainty Englishmen in whatever continent or island of this


world would never tolerate such a tyrannical interference with
their rights. This was demonstrated not only in America, but in
England also.

The issuance in England of just such illegal and arbitrary


warrants was one of the causes that led to the tremendous
agitation headed by John Wilkes. The excitement in that
controversy grew, and notwithstanding the repeated arrests of
Wilkes and his expulsions from Parliament, his reelection was
repeated as often, and his following increased until not only the
ministry but the throne itself was shaken by the cry of "Wilkes
and Liberty." Nor did this well-timed ebullition of human rights
subside until the arbitrary warrants were annulled by a decision
of the King's Bench.

It was the trial of this issue in America that brought on the


Revolution. It was a great cause that had to be pleaded, and the
occasion and the city and the man, were as great as the cause.
The parties to it were clearly defined, and were set in sharp
antagonism.

On the one side were the king's officers in the province, headed
by the governor. This following included the officers of the
customs in particular. It also included the not inconsiderable
class of American respectabilities who were feeble in American
sentiments, and who belonged by nature and affiliation to the
established order. These were the loyalists, destined to be
designated as Tories, and to become the bete noire of patriotism.

On the other side was a whole phalanx of the common people--a


phalanx bounded on the popular side by the outskirt of society
and on the high-up side by the intellectual and philosophical
patriots who were as pronounced as any for the cause of their
country, and with better reason than the reason of the many.

The officers of the province elected by the home folks were all
patriots, but the appointed officers of the crown were quite
unanimous for the prerogative of the crown, holding severe
measures should be taken with the resisting colonists, and in
particular that the Writs of Assistance were good law and correct
policy.

We should here note the particular play of the personal forces in


the year 1760. There were two notable deaths--the one notable
in Massachusetts and the other in the world. The first was that
of Chief Justice Stephen Sewall of Massachusetts, and the other
was that of His Majesty George II, the

"Snuffy old drone from the German hive,"

as he is described by the "Autocrat of the Breakfast Table." The


first was succeeded in office by Thomas Hutchinson,
Lieutenant-Governor of the province under Sir Fraucis Bernard,
who was appointed governor in this notable year 1760 as the
successor of Thomas Pownall, who had succeeded Governor William
Shirley.

Hutchinson--to use the adjective which John Adams was wont to


apply to himself and other patriots to the manner born--was a
Massachusettensian. He had sympathized with the people, but he
now turned against them. Before Judge Sewall went away it was
said and believed that Governor Shirley had promised the place of
Chief Justice, when the same should be vacant, to no other than
Colonel James Otis of Barnstable, father of the subject of this
sketch.

But Governor Bernard, Shirley's second successor in office, took


another view of the matter and appointed Lieutenant-Governor
Hutchinson to the high office of Chief Justice.

It was the belief and allegation of the King's party that this
appointment and this disappointment--the first of Hutchinson and
the second of Colonel Otis--bore heavily on all the Otises, and
indeed converted them from royalism to patriotism.

Chief Justice Hutchinson himself is on record to this effect. In


his "History of Massachusetts," speaking of his own appointment
to the judicial office, he says:

"The expected opposition ensued. Both gentlemen (that is,


Colonel Otis and James Otis, Jr.) had been friends to the
government. From this time they were at the head of every
measure in opposition, not merely in those points which concerned
the Governor in his administration, but in such as concerned the
authority of Parliament; the opposition to which first began in
this colony, and was moved and conducted by one of them, both in
the Assembly and the town of Boston. From so small a spark, a
great fire seems to have been kindled."

The statement of a partisan, especially if he be a beneficiary,


must be taken with the usual allowance of salt.

It may be that the patriotic trend of the Otises was intensified


a little by a personal pique in the matter referred to. But that
either father or son was transferred from the king's party to the
people's party by the failure of Colonel Otis to be appointed
Chief Justice is not to be believed. Other stories are to be
dismissed in the same manner.

One slander prevalent about the Custom House ran to the effect
that James Otis had declared that he would set the province on
fire even if he had to perish in the flames. The art of
political lying was known even among our fathers.

Such was the situation of affairs when the sycophants of the


foreign government in Boston undertook to enforce the Writs of
Assistance. They soon found that they needed more assistance to
do it. The banded merchants, and the patriots generally, said
that the acts were illegal, and that they would not submit to the
officers. The governor and his subordinates and the custom-house
retinue in particular, said that the writs were legal, and that
they should be enforced. The matter came to a clash and a trial.

The case as made up presented this question: Shall the persons


employed in enforcing the Acts of Trade have the power to invoke
generally the assistance of all the executive officers of the
colony?
This issue was, in February of 1761, taken into court in the old
Town House, afterwards the old State House, of Boston. There
were sitting the five Judges of the Superior Court of the
province. Chief Justice Hutchinson, still holding the office of
Lieutenant-Governor, his membership in the Council, and his
position of Judge of Probate, presided at the trial. Perhaps
there was never in America an instance in which a high official
so nearly fulfilled the part of "Pooh Bah."

The trial evoked an attendance of all who could be admitted, and


of many more. The officers of the crown were out in full force,
and resolute patriotism completed the crowd. John Adams was one
of the spectators.

Another element in the dramatic situation was the fact that James
Otis had, in the meantime, received the appointment to the crown
office of Advocate General, to which an ample salary was
attached. In this relation it would be his especial duty to
support the petition of the custom-house officers in upholding
the Writs of Assistance and in constraining the executive
officers of the province to support them in doing so.

This contingency brought out the mettle of the man. When the
revenue officers came to him with the request that he defend
their case, he at once resigned his office, and this being known
the merchants immediately sought his services as counsel to
uphold their protest against the Writs. For his assistant they
selected Mr. Oxenbridge Thatcher.

Otis accepted the invitation without a fee. His action involved


the loss of his official position as well as his means of living.

It chanced at this time that his old law preceptor, Jeremiah


Gridley, was selected as King's Attorney, and it fell to his lot
to take the place which Otis would not accept. Thus master and
pupil were brought face to face at the bar in the hottest legal
encounter which preceded our rupture with the mother country.

The trial that ensued has been described by John Adams, an eye
witness of the whole proceedings. He gives in his works a
description of the conduct of the case as it was presented for
and against the crown, and also notes of Otis's argument.

After the pleas were presented and other preliminary matters


arranged, Mr. Gridley addressed the court in support of the
government's position. He defended the petition of the
custom-house officials as both legal and just. Two statutes of
the time of Charles II, empowering the court of Exchequer to
issue writs such as those which were now denied, were adduced.
He then cited the statute of the sixth year of Queen Anne, which
continued to inforce the processes which had been authorized in
the twelfth and fourteenth years of the reign of Charles.

Still more to the point were the statutes of the seventh and
eighth years of William III, which authorized the collection of
revenue "in the British plantations" by officers who might search
both public and private houses to find goods that had evaded the
duty. These statutes Mr. Gridley claimed as a warrant for the
like usage in America.

In answer to Gridley, Oxenbridge Thatcher,[1] himself a lawyer of


no mean abilities, spoke for the counter petitioners. His plea
was a strong confutation of Gridley's arguments. After this
brief address Mr. Otis rose to continue the plea for the people.

Of the speech which followed we have no complete record or wholly


satisfactory summary. It is to John Adams, and to the notes
which he made on the occasion, that we must look for our opinion
of what was, if we mistake not, the greatest and most effective
oration delivered in the American colonies before the Revolution.

Such was the accepted belief of those who heard Otis, and
witnessed the effect of his tremendous oratory.

Making all allowance for exaggeration, it seems to have been one


of those inspired appeals by which History and Providence at
critical epochs make themselves known to mankind. John Adams,
then twenty-five years of age, passing from his notes of
Thatcher's speech, says of the greater actor:

"But Otis was a flame of fire; with a promptitude of classical


allusions, a depth of research, a rapid summary of historical
events and dates, a profusion of legal authorities, a prophetic
glance of his eyes into futurity, and a rapid torrent of
impetuous eloquence, he hurried away all before him. American
Independence was then and there born. The seeds of patriots and
heroes, to defend the Non sine diis animosus infans, to defend
the vigorous youth, were then and there sown. Every man of an
immense crowded audience appeared to me to go away, as I did,
ready to take arms against Writs of Assistance. Then and there
was the first scene of the first act of opposition to the
arbitrary claims of Great Britain. Then and there the child
Independence was born. In fifteen years, that is in 1776, he
grew up to manhood, and declared himself free."

We may allow a little for the enthusiasm of a young patriot such


as Adams, but there can be no doubt that his unmeasured eulogy
was well deserved. Such was the description of Otis's speech.

As to the speech itself we have only a second-hand and inadequate


report. Minot, in his "History of Massachusetts," presents what
purports to be a tolerably full outline of the great address.

Mr. Otis spoke for five hours, during which time with his rather
rapid utterance he would perhaps deliver an oration of 30,000
words. Minot's report appears to have been derived from Adams'
notes done into full form by an unknown writer, who probably put
in here and there some rather florid paragraphs of his own. At a
subsequent period, Adams took up the subject and corrected
Minot's report, giving the revised address to William Tudor, who
used the same in his biography of James Otis. From these sources
we are able to present a fair abstract of what were the leading
parts of Otis's speech. In the beginning he said:

"May it please your Honors:


"I was desired by one of the court to look into the books, and
consider the question now before them concerning Writs of
Assistance. I have accordingly considered it, and now appear,
not only in obedience to your order, but likewise in behalf of
the inhabitants of this town, who have present another petition,
and out of regard to the liberties of the subject. And I take
this liberty to declare, that, whether under a fee or not (for in
such a cause as this I despise a fee), I will to my dying day
oppose, with all the powers and faculties God has given me, all
such instruments of slavery on the one hand, and villainy on the
other, as this Writ of Assistance is.

"It appears to me the worst instrument of arbitrary power, the


most destructive of English liberty and the fundamental
principles of law, that was ever found in an English law-book. I
must, therefore, beg your Honors' patience and attention to the
whole range of an argument, that may, perhaps, appear uncommon in
many things, as well as to points of learning that are more
remote and unusual, that the whole tendency of my design may the
more easily be perceived, the conclusions better descend, and the
force of them be better felt.

"I shall not think much of my pains in this case, as I engaged in


it from principle. I was solicited to argue this case as
advocate-general; and because I would not, I have been charged
with desertion from my office. To this charge I can give a very
sufficient answer. I renounced that office, and I argue this
case, from the same principle; and I argue it with the greater
pleasure, as it is in favor of British liberty, at a time when we
hear the greatest monarch upon earth declaring from his throne,
that he glories in the name of Briton, and that the privileges of
his people are dearer to him than the most valuable prerogatives
of his crown; and it is in opposition to a kind of power, the
exercise of which, in former periods of English history, cost one
king of England his head, and another his throne.

"I have taken more pains in this case than I ever will take
again, although my engaging in this and another popular case has
raised much resentment. But I think I can sincerely declare,
that I cheerfully submit myself to every odious name for
conscience' sake; and from my soul I despise all those whose
guilt, malice or folly, has made them my foes.

"Let the consequences be what they will, I am determined to


proceed. The only principles of public conduct, that are worthy
of a gentleman or a man, are to sacrifice estate, ease, health
and applause, and even life, to the sacred calls of his country.

"These manly sentiments, in private life, make the good citizen;


in public life, the patriot and the hero. I do not say that,
when brought to the test, I shall be invincible. I pray God I
may never be brought to the melancholy trial; but if ever I
should, it will then be known how far I can reduce to practice
principles which I know to be founded in truth. In the meantime,
I will proceed to the subject of this writ."

After this introductory part we are obliged to fall back on the


summary given by Mr. Adams. According to his report, Otis in the
next place went into fundamentals and discussed the rights of man
in a state of nature. In this part, the argument ran in an
analagous vein to that of Rousseau in the Contrat Social that is,
man in the first place is a sovereign subject only to the higher
laws revealed in his own conscience. In this state he has a
right to life, to liberty, to property.

Here the speaker fell into the manner of Jefferson in the opening
paragraphs of the Declaration. It is to be noted that Otis
presented the truth absolutely; he including negroes in the
common humanity to whom inalienable rights belong.

Mr. Otis next took up the social compact, and showed that society
is the individual enlarged and generalized. This brought him to
the question before the court; for the conflict now on was a
struggle of society, endowed with inalienable rights, against
arbitrary authority and its abusive exercise.

The abusive exercise was shown in the attempts to enforce the


Acts of Trade. Of this kind was the old Navigation Act, and of
like character was the Importation Act. It was to enforce these
that the Writs of Assistance had been devised. Mr. Otis then
continued:

"Your Honors will find, in the old books concerning the office of
a justice of the peace, precedents of general warrants to search
suspected houses. But, in more modern books, you will find only
special warrants to search such and such houses, specially named,
in which the complainant has before sworn, that he suspects his
goods are concealed; and will find it adjudged, that special
warrants only are legal. In the same manner, I rely in it, that
the writ prayed for in this petition, being general, is illegal.
It is a power that places the liberty of every man in the hands
of every petty officer.

"I say, I admit that special Writs of Assistance, to search


special places, may be granted to certain persons on oath; but I
deny that the writ now prayed for can be granted; for I beg leave
to make some observations on the writ itself, before I proceed to
other acts of Parliament.

"In the first place, the writ is universal, being directed to


'all and singular justices, sheriffs, constables, and all other
officers and subjects;' so that, in short, it is directed to
every subject in the King's dominions. Every one, with this
writ, may be a tyrant in a legal manner, and may control,
imprison, or murder, any one within the realm.

"In the next place it is perpetual; there is no return. A man is


accountable to no person for his doings. Every man may reign
secure in his petty tyranny, and spread terror and desolation
around him, until the trump of the archangel shall excite
different emotions in his soul.

"In the third place, a person with this writ, in the daytime, may
enter all houses, shops, etc., at will, and command all to assist
him.
"Fourthly, by this writ, not only deputies, etc., but even their
menial servants, are allowed to lord it over us. What is this
but to have the curse of Canaan with a witness on us? To be the
servant of servants, the most despicable of God's creation?

"Now, one of the most essential branches of English liberty is


the freedom of one's house. A man's house is his castle; and
whilst he is quiet, he is as well guarded as a prince in his
castle. This writ, if it should be declared legal, would totally
annihilate this privilege. Custom-house officers may enter our
houses when they please; we are commanded to permit their entry.
Their menial servants may enter, may break locks, bars, and every
thing in their way; and whether they break through malice or
revenge, no man, no court, can inquire. Bare suspicion, without
oath, is sufficient.

"This wanton exercise of this power is not a chimerical


suggestion of a heated brain. I will mention some facts. Mr.
Pew had one of these writs, and, when Mr. Ware succeeded him, he
endorsed this writ over to Mr. Ware; so that these writs are
negotiable from one officer to another; and so your Honors have
no opportunity of judging the persons to whom this vast power is
delegated. Another instance is this:

"Mr. Justice Walley had called this same Mr. Ware before him, by
a constable, to answer for a breach of the Sabbath-day acts, or
that of profane swearing. As soon as he had finished, Mr. Ware
asked him if he had done. He replied, 'Yes.' 'Well, then,' said
Mr. Ware, 'I will show you a little of my power. I command you
to permit me to search your house for uncustomed goods;' and went
on to search the house from the garret to the cellar; and then
served the constable in the same manner.

"But to show another absurdity in this writ, if it be


established, I insist upon it, every person, by the 14th of
Charles the Second, has this power, as well as the custom-house
officers. The words are, 'It shall be lawful for any person, or
persons, authorized,' etc. What a scene does this open. Every
man prompted by revenge, ill-humor, or wantonness, to inspect the
inside of his neighbor's house, may get a Writ of Assistance.
Others will ask it from self-defence; one arbitrary exertion will
provoke another, until society be involved in tumult and in
blood."

This extract may serve to show the Demosthenic power of James


Otis as an orator. We cannot within our limits present many
additional paragraphs from his great plea in the cause of his
countrymen.

To the next division of his argument he confuted the position


taken by Gridley with respect to the alleged legal precedents for
the Writs of Assistance. He showed that the writs were wholly
different from those provided for in the time of Charles II.
Even if they had not been so, the epoch and the manner of King
Charles had passed away. Neither could the Writs be justified by
inferences and constructions deduced from any previous statutes
of Parliament.
Besides, such odious Writs could never be enforced. They could
never be enforced in the City of the Pilgrims. If the King of
England should himself encamp with twenty thousand soldiers on
the Common of Boston, he could not enforce such laws. He
assailed the sugar tax with unmeasured invective. And over and
above all, this despotic legislation was in direct conflict with
the Charter of Massachusetts.

Here the orator broke forth in his most impassioned strain


declaring that the British King, the British Parliament and the
British nation, were all guilty of ingratitude and oppression in
attempting to impose tyrannical enactment on the people of
America. Thus he concluded his argument appeal.

Those who heard the oration were convulsed with excitement. The
King's party was enraged. The patriots were inspired and
defiant. It was in every respect a critical and a historic hour.

What would the court do with the case? The action of that body
was obscure and double. There seems to have been a disposition
of the Associate Judges to decide for the counter-petitioners;
but Chief Justice Hutchinson induced them to assent to his policy
of withholding a decision. He accordingly announced that the
court would decide the case at the ensuing session. He then
wrote to the home government, and the records show that the
decision was rendered for the petitioners. That is, for the
Custom House officials, and in favor of the Writs.

The Chief Justice is also on record to the effect that he


continued to issue the Writs; but if so, no officer of the king
ever dared to present one of them in Boston! The famous (and
infamous) Writs of Assistance were as dead as the mummies of
Egypt.

It is from this point of view that the character and work of


James Otis appear to the greatest historical advantage. There
can be no doubt that his was the living voice which called to
resistance, first Boston, then Massachusetts, then New England
and then the world! For ultimately the world heard the sound
thereof and was glad. The American Colonies resisted, and at
length won their independence. The sparks fell in France, and
the jets of flame ran together in a conflagration the light of
which was seen over Europe, and if over Europe, then over the
world. The Pre-revolutionist had cried out and mankind heard
him. Resistance to tyranny became obedience to God.

We shall here sketch rapidly and briefly the unsteady way and
unfortunate decline of James Otis down to the time of the eclipse
of his intellect and his tragic death.

Three months after he had, according to John Adams; "breathed


into the nation the breath of life," he was chosen to represent
Boston in the legislature of the Commonwealth. All of his
colleagues were patriots. Boston was in that mood.

There runs a story that when he was entering upon his duties he
was counselled by a friend to curb his impetuosity and to gain
leadership by the mastery of self--advice most salutary to one
of his temperament. But it was much like advising General Putnam
to be calm at Bunker Hill! Otis promised, however, that if his
friends would warn him when his temperature was rising, he would
command himself.

It is also narrated that his friends did attempt to pluck him by


the coat, but he turned upon them demanding to know if he was a
school boy to be called down!

At this time the relations between Governor Bernard and the


Legislature were greatly strained. Otis rather increased the
tension. A question arose about a financial measure whereby gold
was to be exported and silver money retained as the currency of
the colony--the former at less than its nominal value--in a
manner to juggle the people into paying their obligations twice
over. The argument became hot and the Council taking the side of
the administration was opposed by the legislative assembly.

Chief Justice Hutchinson and James Otis got into a controversy


which was bitter enough, and which may be illustrated with the
following letter which James Otis addressed to the printer of a
newspaper:

"Perhaps I should not have troubled you or the public with any
thoughts of mine, had not his Honor the Lieutenant-Governor
condescended to give me a personal challenge. This is an honor
that I never had vanity enough to aspire after, and I shall ever
respect Mr. Hutchinson for it so long as I live, as he certainly
consulted my reputation more than his own when he bestowed it. A
general officer in the army would be thought very condescending
to accept, much more to give, a challenge to a subaltern. The
honor of entering the lists with a gentleman so much one's
superior in one view is certainly tempting; it is at least
possible that his Honor may lose much; but from those who have
and desire but little, but little can possibly be taken away.

"I am your humble servant,


"JAMES OTIS, JR."

This controversy continued for some time, and it is thought that


to it must be attributed much of the animosity displayed by the
Chief Justice towards Otis in the "History of Massachusetts Bay."

Mr. Otis continued his aggressive policy in the session of the


assembly held in 1762. It was at this session that the
government in the hope of getting a sum of money adopted the ruse
of creating an alarm relative to a French invasion of
Newfoundland. But the patriots would have none of it. They went
so far as to say that if arbitrary government was to be
established in America, it made no difference whether the
Americans should have King Stork or King Log. To this effect ran
a resolution offered by James Otis:

"No necessity can be sufficient to justify a House of


Representatives in giving up such a privilege; for it would be of
little consequence to the people, whether they were subject to
George or Louis, the King of Great Britain or the French King; if
both were arbitrary, as both would be, if both could levy taxes
without Parliament."

It is said that when this resolution was offered a loyalist


member cried out in the Virginian manner, "Treason, treason." It
was in this way that Mr. Otis gained the undying enmity of the
King's party in America.

It was in the period following his legislative service that James


Otis prepared his powerful pamphlet entitled "A Vindication of
the Conduct of the House of Representatives of the Province of
the Massachusetts Bay." In this work he traverses and justifies
the course pursued by the patriot legislature during the sessions
of his attendance.

Great was the joy of the American Colonies at the conclusion of


the French and Indian War. The Treaty of Paris in February of
1763 conceded Canada to Great Britain and insured the
predominance of English institutions in the New World.

The animosities of the Americans towards the mother country


rapidly subsided. Meetings were held in the principal towns to
ratify the peace. At the jubilee in Boston, James Otis presided.

He made on the occasion one of his notable addresses. He


referred with enthusiasm to the "expulsion of the heathen"--
meaning the French, and then expressed sentiments of strong
affection for Great Britain and appreciation of the filial
relations of the American Colonies to her.

In these utterances Otis reflected the sentiment of the


Bostonians and of the whole people. The General Assembly of
Massachusetts took up the theme and passed resolutions of
gratitude and loyalty. At this particular juncture the Americans
did not anticipate what was soon to follow.

The English Ministry was already preparing a scheme for the


raising of revenue in America: The question of the right of
taxation suddenly obtruded itself. The Americans claimed the
right as Englishmen to tax themselves. The English ministers
replied that Parliament, and not the Colonial Assemblies, was the
proper body to vote taxes in any and all parts of the British
Empire. The Americans replied that they were not represented in
Parliament. Parliament replied that many of the towns, shires,
and boroughs in England were not represented. If they were not
represented, they ought to be, said the Americans;--and thus the
case was made up.

By the beginning of 1764 it was known that the Ministers had


determined to make a rigorous enforcement of the Sugar Act. Than
this, nothing could be more odious to America.

In the spring of the year just named, the citizens of Boston held
a great meeting to protest against the impending policy of the
crown. As a member of the Assembly and as chairman of a
committee Mr. Otis made a report which was ordered to be sent to
the agent of the government along with the copy of Otis's recent
pamphlet, "The Rights of the British Colonies asserted and
proved."
At this time Lieutenant-Governor Hutchinson was about to become
the representative of the Colony in its contention with the crown
and for some reason, not very apparent, Mr. Otis favored his
appointment. Governor Bernard, however, opposed the measure, and
Hutchinson declined the appointment. Otis's course was censured
by the patriots and his popularity was for the while impaired.
However, he took strong grounds against the Sugar Act, and soon
afterward still more strenuously opposed the Stamp Act.

He regained the impaired confidence of the people and at the


close of the session of the Assembly he was appointed chairman of
a committee to correspond with the other Colonies, and thus to
promote the common interest of all. This, after the
intercolonial conference which Franklin had promoted, was perhaps
the first step towards the creation of the Continental Congress.
Mr. Otis's letter to the provincial agent went to England, though
it was sent in the name of the Lower House only. In this
document the writer said:

"Granting the time may come, which we hope is far off, when the
British Parliament shall think fit to oblige the North Americans,
not only to maintain civil government among themselves, for this
they have already done, but to support an army to protect them,
can it be possible, that the duties to be imposed and the taxes
to be levied shall be assessed without the voice or consent of
one American in Parliament? If we are not represented, we are
slaves."

This document was one of the few American papers which was read
and criticized in the British Parliament. The merits of Mr.
Otis's pamphlet were actually debated in the House of Lords by
Lord Littleton and Lord Mansfield. The latter in the course of
his remarks said:

"Otis is a man of consequence among the people there. They have


chosen him for one of their deputies at the Congress, and general
meeting from the respective governments. It is said the man is
mad. What then? One madman often makes many. Massaniello was
mad, nobody doubts; yet for all that, he overturned the
government of Naples. Madness is catching in all popular
assemblies, and upon all popular matters. The book is full of
wildness. I never read it till a few days ago, for I seldom look
into such things."

It was in the course of this pamphlet that the Mr. Otis spoke so
strongly on taxation and representation. "The very act of
taxing," said he, "exercised over those who are not represented,
appears to me to be depriving them of one of their most essential
rights; and, if continued seems to be, in effect, an entire
disfranchisement of every civil right. For what one civil right
is worth a rush, after a man's property is subject to be taken
from him at pleasure, without his consent?"[2]

In this was the germ of the stern resistance offered by the


Americans to the Stamp Act. No man in the colonies did so much
to confute the principles on which the Stamp Act rested as did
James Otis.
When the General Assembly of Massachusetts met in May of 1765,
Governor Bernard urged in his address the duty of submission to
Parliament as to the "conservators of liberty." It was this
recommendation which being referred to a Committee, of which Otis
was a member, led to the adoption of a resolution for the holding
of a Colonial Congress in New York.

Nine colonies accepted the invitation of Massachusetts, and James


Otis headed the delegation of three members chosen to represent
the mother colony in that prophetic body.

The story of the contest of the Americans with the home


government on the subject of the Stamp Act is well known. The
controversy resulted on the 18th of March, 1766, in the repeal of
the Act by Parliament. But the repeal was accompanied with a
salvo to British obduracy in the form of a declaration that
Parliament had "the right to bind the colonies in all cases
whatsoever."

Notwithstanding this hateful addendum, the repeal of the Act was


received in America with the greatest joy. During the excitement
antecedent to the repeal, mobs had surged through the streets of
Boston, building bonfires and burning effigies of officers and
other adherents of the king's party. In one of these
ebullitions, the house of Lieutenant-Governor Hutchinson was
attacked and pillaged. The better people had nothing to do with
it. Many were arrested and imprisoned.

Governor Bernard was so much alarmed that he declared himself to


be a governor only in name. The partisans of the crown started a
story that James Otis was the instigator of the riots. There is
a hint to this effect in Hutchinson's "History of Massachusetts
Bay." But it is evident that the charge was unfounded--except
in this, that in times of public excitement the utterances of
orators are frequently wrested from their purpose by the ignorant
and made to do service in the cause of anarchy.

Meanwhile on the first of November, Mr. Otis returned from the


Congress in New York, laid a copy of the proceedings before the
Assembly, and was formally thanked for his services.

During the Stamp Act year, Mr. Otis found time to compose two
pamphlets setting forth his views on the great questions of the
day. There had recently appeared a letter written by a Halifax
gentleman and addressed to a Rhode Island friend. The latter
personage was unknown; the former was ascertained to be a certain
Mr. Howard. The so-called "Letter" was written with much ability
and in a bitter spirit.

To this Otis replied with great asperity, and with his power of
invective untrammeled. He called his pamphlet "A Vindication of
the British Colonies against the Aspersions of the Halifax
Gentleman, in his Letter to a Rhode Island Friend." A single
passage from the work may serve to show the cogency of the
writer's style and especially his anticipation of the doctrines
of the Declaration of Independence.
"Is the gentleman," said he, "a British-born subject and a
lawyer, and ignorant that charters from the crown have usually
been given for enlarging the liberties and privileges of the
grantees, not for limiting them, much less for curtailing those
essential rights, which all his Majesty's subjects are entitled
to, by the laws of God and nature, as well as by the common law
and by the constitution of their country?

"The gentleman's positions and principles, if true, would afford


a curious train of consequences. Life, liberty, and property
are, by the law of nature, as well as by the common law, secured
to the happy inhabitants of South Britain, and constitute their
primary, civil, or political, rights."

The other pamphlet bearing date of September 4, 1765, was


entitled "Considerations on Behalf of the Colonists, in a Letter
to a Noble Lord." In this the writer discusses the question of
Taxation and in particular the specious claim of the British
Ministry that the home government might justly tax the colonists
to defray the expenses of the French and Indian War.

In answer to this Otis says, in a manner worthy of an American


patriot in the year 1898, "The national debt is confessed on all
hands to be a terrible evil, and may in time ruin the state. But
it should be remembered, that the colonies never occasioned its
increase, nor ever reaped any of the sweet fruits of involving
the finest kingdom in the world in the sad calamity of an
enormous, overgrown mortgage to state and stock-jobbers."

The period here under consideration was that in which the Stamp
Act was nominally in force. The law required all legal business
to be done on stamped paper. Therefore no legal business was
done.

Hutchinson in his History says: "No wills were proved, no


administrations granted, no deeds nor bonds executed." Of course
matters could not go on in this manner forever. Governor Bernard
was induced to call the legislature together. When that body
convened an answer to the Governor's previous message was adopted
by the House, and the answer was the work of James Otis. An
extract will show the temper of the people at that juncture:

"The courts of justice must be open, open immediately, and the


law, the great rule of right, in every county in the province,
executed. The stopping the courts of justice is a grievance
which this House must inquire into. Justice must be fully
administered through the province, by which the shocking effects
which your Excellency apprehended from the people's
non-compliance with the Stamp Act will be prevented."

Meanwhile the public agitation continued; the newspapers teemed


with controversy. The administration was firm, but patriotism
was rampant. The party of the people adopted the policy of
embarrassing the government as much as possible. Then came the
news of the repeal of the act, and the jubilation of the people
to which we have already referred came after.

When the legislature met in May of 1767, James Otis was chosen
speaker; but his election was vetoed by the Governor. The House
was obliged to submit, which it did in sullen temper, and then
chose Thomas Cushing for its presiding officer. The other
elections indicated the patriotic purpose of the House.

There was almost a deadlock between the legislative and executive


departments. Governor Bernard addressed the representatives in a
supercilious and dogmatic manner, which they for their part
resented with scant courtesy.

On one occasion they said (the language being Otis's) in a


concluding paragraph: "With regard to the rest of your
Excellency's speech, we are sorry we are constrained to observe,
that the general air and style of it savor much more of an act of
free grace and pardon, than of a parliamentary address to the two
Houses of Assembly; and we most sincerely wish your Excellency
had been pleased to reserve it, if needful, for a proclamation."

The state papers on affairs--at least that portion of them


emanating from the legislative department--were, up to the year
1769, nearly all prepared by Mr. Otis; but it was generally
necessary to tone down the first drafts of his work. For this
duty the speaker (Thomas Cushing) and Samuel Adams were generally
selected. It was reckoned necessary to put the damper on the
fire!

The popular tendency at this time was illustrated in a


proposition made by Mr. Otis to open the gallery of the House to
such of the people as might wish to hear the debates.

Otis continued his correspondence, a great deal of which was


official. His style and spirit suited the temper of the
representatives, and they kept him occupied as chairman of a
committee to answer messages from the Government, and, indeed,
messages from anybody who might assail the patriot party.

In the meantime the animosity between him and the Governor of the
province waxed hot. The Governor constantly charged the patriot
leader with being an incendiary, and the latter replied in a
manner to convict Governor Bernard of despotic usages and a
spirit hostile to American liberty.

The next measure adopted by Parliament inimical to the colonies


was the act of 1767 imposing duties on glass, paper, painters'
colors, and tea, and appointing a commission for the special
purpose of collecting the revenues. The commissioners so
appointed were to reside in the colonies.

This measure, hardly less odious than the Stamp Act, was
strangely enough resisted with less vehemence. Several of the
popular leaders were disposed to counsel moderation. Among these
was Otis himself. But nearly all outside of the official circles
were united against the new act. They formed associations and
signed agreements not to use any of the articles on which the
duty was imposed. This was equivalent to making the act of no
effect.

In the legislative assembly of 1768, Mr. Otis was appointed with


Samuel Adams to prepare an important paper on the state of public
affairs. This they did by drawing up a petition which has been
regarded as one of the ablest of its kind.

There is some controversy as to who actually wrote this famous


paper, but it appears to have been done mostly by Mr. Otis,
though the refining hand of Samuel Adams may be clearly seen in
the style. The publication of the paper still further strained
the relations between Governor Bernard and the representative
branch.

Meanwhile, the news of the assembling of the Colonial Congress in


New York had produced a sensation in England, and the petition of
the Massachusetts legislature added to the temper of the
ministry. In May of 1768, Bernard sent to the assembly a
requisition that that body should rescind the resolution which
they had passed for sending a circular letter to the other
colonies.

To this Mr. Otis, acting for the assembly, prepared a reply


which, while it was not less severe, was more respectful and
concessive than were most of his communications. At the
conclusion he says:

"We have now only to inform your Excellency, that this House have
voted not to rescind, as required, the resolution of the last
House; and that, upon a decision on the question, there were
ninety-two nays and seventeen yeas."

In this manner the controversy dragged on through the years


1768-69, but in the summer of the former year an event occurred
which roused the people to a high pitch of excitement. Some of
the custom-house officers seized a vessel belonging to John
Hancock. For this they were assailed by a mob which burned the
boat of the collector of customs. The officers fled to the
castle. It was for this business that a body of British soldiers
was first sent to Boston.

On the 12th of September, 1768, a great meeting was held in


Faneuil Hall, but the crowd was such as to make necessary and
adjournment to Sewall's Meeting-house. James Otis was moderator
of the meeting. The presence of British soldiers, evidently sent
to Boston to enforce the decrees of an arbitrary government, was
sufficient to bring into play all the elements of patriotism.

The British soldier's coat in the old town was of the same color
as the scarf which the picador shakes in the face of the enraged
animal! The effect in either case was the same.

At the meeting just mentioned, Mr. Otis presided and spoke. A


report of what occurred was written (presumptively by some enemy
of the patriots), and was sent as a report to the British
ministry. In this Otis was charged with saying, "In case Great
Britain is not disposed to redress our grievances after proper
application, the people have nothing more to do, but to gird the
sword on the thigh and shoulder the musket." Doubtless this
report was a perversion of the truth.
Other meetings were held, and resolutions were the order of the
day. On the 22nd of June, Faneuil Hall was again crowded. James
Otis, Thomas Cushing, Samuel Adams, and John Hancock were
selected as representatives to meet Committees of other towns in
a convention. At this meeting it was voted that the people
should arm themselves. The convention met with delegates present
from nearly ninety towns. The movement against the ministerial
scheme had already become revolutionary.

Meanwhile in 1768, the general assembly was unceremoniously


prorogued by Governor Bernard, but in May of the following year,
the body was re-convened. On the meeting day the building was
surrounded with British troops.

Otis made an address, declaring that free legislation would be


impossible in the presence of an armed soldiery. He moved the
appointment of a committee to remonstrate with the Governor, and
to request the withdrawal of the soldiers. To this the Governor
replied evasively that he had not the authority to order the
withdrawal of the military. Otis in answer reported that the
Governor's reply was according to English law, more impossible
than the thing which the Assembly had petitioned for.

The matter resulted in the adjournment of the body to meet at


Cambridge, in the chapel of Harvard College. Assembled at that
place the legislature was addressed by Otis with impassioned
eloquence. The people as well as the legislators were gathered.

"The times are dark and trying," said the speaker. "We may soon
be called on in turn to act or to suffer." "You," he continued,
"should study and emulate the models of ancient patriotism. To
you your country may one day look for support, and you should
recollect that the noblest of all duties is to serve that
country, and if necessary to devote your lives in her cause."

The House soon prepared a paper to be sent to the British


Ministry denouncing the administration of Governor Bernard and
protesting against the further presence of a British Soldiery in
Boston. On the 27th of June, 1769, the representatives went
further and prepared a petition, praying for the removal of
Bernard from the government. This they might well do for the
king had already recalled him!

The Governor went away in such odor as the breezes of the Old Bay
have hardly yet dissipated. He went away, but in the fall added
his compliments to the Americans by the publication of sundry
letters in which they were traduced and vilified. To this James
Otis and Samuel Adams, were appointed a committee to reply. They
did so in a pamphlet entitled "An Appeal to the World, or a
Vindication of the Town of Boston," etc.

It was in these tumultuous and honorable labors and excitements


extending over a period of fully ten years that the intellect of
James Otis became overstrained and, at length, warped from its
purpose.

We may regard his rational career as ending with the year 1769.
In September of this year it was noticed that he had become
excitable, and that his natural eccentricity was accented at
times to the extent of rendering his conduct irrational.

It was at this time that he published in the Boston "Gazette"


what he called an advertisement, in which he placarded the four
commissioners of customs, on the ground that they had assailed
his character, declaring that they had formed a confederacy of
villainy, and warning the officers of the crown to pay no
attention to them.

On the evening of the following day, Mr. Otis went into a


coffee-house where John Robinson, one of the commissioners whom
he had lampooned, was sitting. On entering the room, Mr. Otis
was attacked by Robinson who struck him with his cane. Otis
struck back. There was a battle. Those who were present were
Robinson's friends. The fight became a melee.

A young man named Gridley undertook to assist Otis, but was


himself overpowered and pitched out of the house. Mr. Otis was
seriously wounded in the head, and was taken to his house,
bleeding and exhausted. The principle wound appeared to be
inflicted with a sword; it was in the nature of a cut, and an
empty scabbard was found on the floor of the room in which the
altercation occurred.

On the morrow, Boston was aflame with excitement. Otis was


seriously injured; in fact he never recovered from the effects of
the assault. He brought suit against Robinson, and a jury gave a
judgment of two thousand pounds damages against the defendant.
The latter arose in court with a writing of open confession and
apology, and hereupon the spirited and generous Otis refused to
avail himself of the verdict.

Could he have thrown off the effects of the injury in like


manner, his last years might have been a happier sequel to a
useful and patriotic life.

During the sessions of the Assembly, in the years 1770 and 1771,
James Otis retained his membership, but the mental disease which
afflicted him began to grow worse, and he participated only at
intervals (and eccentrically) in the business of legislation.

In May of 1770, a town meeting was held in Boston, and a


resolution of thanks was passed to the distinguished
representative for his services in the General Assembly. This
was on the occasion of his retirement into the country, in the
hope of regaining his health. At the close, the resolution
declared:

"The town cannot but express their ardent wishes for the recovery
of his (Mr. Otis's) health, and the continuance of those public
services, that must long be remembered with gratitude, and
distinguish his name among the Patriots of America."

From this time forth the usefulness of James Otis was virtually
at an end. In the immortal drama on which the curtain was rising
--the drama of Liberty and Independence--he was destined to take
no part. The pre-revolutionist in eclipse must give place to
the Revolutionist who was rising. John Adams came after, not
wholly by his own ambition, but at the call of inexorable
History, to take the part and place of the great Forerunner.

What must have been the thoughts and emotions of that Forerunner
when the minute men of Massachusetts came firing and charging
after the British soldiers in full retreat from Concord Bridge
and Lexington? With what convulsion must his mind, in
semi-darkness and ruin, have received the news of the still
greater deed at Bunker Hill? History is silent as to what the
broken Titan thought and said in those heroic days.

The patriot in dim eclipse became at times wholly rational, but


with the least excitement his malady would return. In
conversation something of his old brilliancy would return in
flashes. For the rest, the chimes in that high soul no longer
played the music of reason, but gave out only the discords of
insanity. He was never reduced to serious delirium or to violent
frenzy, but he was an insane man; and under this shadow he walked
for the greater part of ten years, during which Independence was
declared and the Revolution fought out to a victorious end.

It was in this period of decline and obscuration that James Otis


witnessed through the gathering shadows the rise to distinction
and fame of many of the patriots whom he had led in the first
campaigns for liberty. John Adams and Hancock were now at the
fore battling for independence. Among those who rose to eminence
in the immortal eighth decade was Samuel Alleyne Otis, who in
1776 was elected a representative in the great Congress of the
Revolution. James did not live to see his brother become speaker
of the House, but he witnessed in 1780 his service as a member of
the Constitutional Convention of Massachusetts. Afterward, in
1787, he was a commissioner to negotiate a settlement with the
participants in Shay's Rebellion. With the organization of the
new national government he became Secretary of the Senate of the
United States, and served in that capacity until his death, April
22, 1814.

In 1781, Mr. Otis was taken by his friend, Colonel Samuel Osgood,
to the home of the latter in Andover. There the enfeebled
patriot passed the remainder of his life. He became very obese,
and his nervous excitability to an extent subsided.

He was amiable and interesting to his friends. His health was in


some measure restored, but his intellectual strength did not
return. He thought of going back to Boston, and in one instance
he accepted and conducted a case in the court of Common Pleas;
but his manner was that of a paretic giant.

The favorable turn in Mr. Otis's condition was at length arrested


by an attempt on his part to dine with Governor Hancock. At the
dinner he was observed to become first sad and then to waver into
mental occultation. He was taken by his brother, Hon. Samuel
Alleyne Otis, to Andover. The event convinced the sufferer that
the end of his life was not distant.

Strange, strange are the foregleams of the things to come! On


one occasion he said to his sister, Mrs. Warren, "I hope when God
Almighty in his Providence shall take me out of time into
eternity, it will be by a flash of lightning!" The tradition
goes that he frequently gave expression to this wish. Did the
soul foresee the manner of its exit?

A marvelous and tragic end was indeed at hand. On the 23d of


May, 1783, only a few months before the Briton left our shores
never to return but by the courtesy of the Republic, a
thundercloud, such as the season brings in New England, passed
over Andover.

James Otis stood against the lintel of the door watching the
commotion of the elements. There was a crash of thunder. The
lightning, serpent-like, darted from heaven to earth and passed
through the body of the patriot! Instantly he was dead.

There was no mark upon him; no contortion left its snarling twist
on the placid features of him who had contributed so much of
genius and patriotic fire to the freedom and future greatness of
his country--so much to the happiness of his countrymen.

On the 24th of the month the body of Mr. Otis was taken to Boston
and was placed in modest state in his former home. The funeral
on the 25th was conducted by the Brotherhood of Free and Accepted
Masons to which Mr. Otis belonged. The sepulture was made, as
narrated in the first pages of this monograph, in the Cunningham
tomb in the Old Granary Burying Ground. In that tomb, also was
laid six years afterwards, the body of Ruth Cunningham Otis, his
wife. Out of this brief narrative of a great life, let each
reader for himself deduce as he may, the inspiration and purpose,
without which American citizenship is no better that some other.

Since the first pages of this monograph were written (in March
1898,) the Sons of the American Revolution have marked the grave
of James Otis with a bronze reproduction of their armorial badge,
and a small tablet, as seen in the Illustration on this page.

[1] John Adams attempts to classify the pre-revolutionary orators


of New England according to their ardor and influence. "The
characters," says he, "the most conspicuous, the most ardent and
influential, from 1760 to 1766, were first and foremost, above
all and over all, James Otis; next to him was Oxenbridge
Thatcher, next to him Samuel Adams; next to him, John Hancock,
then Doctor Mayhew."--Works of John Adams, Vol. X, p. 284.

If we should insert in this list the name of John Adams himself


his place would be between his cousin and Hancock.

[2] In a further discussion of the prerogatives of the crown Mr.


Otis said: "When the Parliament shall think fit to allow the
colonists a representation in the House of Commons, the equity of
their taxing the colonists will be as clear as their power is, at
present, of doing it if they please."

THE CHARACTER OF JAMES OTIS BY CHARLES K. EDMUNDS, PH. D.

In viewing Washington as the "Father" of our country, as he


certainly was in a sense which we of to-day are coming more and
more to appreciate, in classing Hamilton and Jefferson as
brothers of Washington in his great work, and in ascribing to
Franklin even a greater share in establishing "The United States
of America" than to any of these three, we are apt to forget
those patriots who did so much to keep alive the spirit of
liberty and justice in our land during the troublesome times
preceding the actual rupture between England and her American
Colonies. While we ascribe great and merited praise to those who
not only helped to lay the foundation but also actually began to
build the superstructure of our nationhood, let us not forget
those who by reason of the slightly earlier day in which they
strove needed even a clearer vision to follow the same plans.
They labored before the day had dawned, and yet they held ever
before them the same high-minded general principles of liberty
and justice which actuated the lives of those who took up their
work after them, when the light of Independence was fast breaking
on our shores. Among these pre-revolutionists there is none
more worthy of remembrance and admiration than James Otis, the
foremost advocate of his time in the Colonies. Very vigorously
he toiled in sowing seed the fruits of which he himself was not
to see, but which under the nurture of other able hands and in
the providence of the God of Nations budded at last into "The
Great Republic." Thus it becomes the purpose of this article to
recall briefly the most striking characteristics of him whose
name must always be intimately associated with the ardent debates
and the troublesome events which foreshadowed the great struggle
between the greatest of colonizing nations and her greatest
Colonies.

The exigency of these times was great; and men of courage and
capacity, wise in council and prompt in action rose to meet it.
They were not men ennobled merely by their appearance on the
stage at the time when great scenes were passing. They took a
part in those scenes with a degree of aptness and energy
proportional to the magnitude of the occasion and throughout
displayed high qualities of character.

Otis's part was played not so much in the revolution itself, as


in the agitations and controversies by which it was heralded and
its way prepared. "Admirably fitted by his popular talents, legal
acquirements, and ardent temperament, to take an active share in
the discussion respecting the comparative rights of the Colonies
and the British Parliament, and in preparing the minds of his
countrymen for the great step of a final separation from England,
and having exhausted, as it were, his mental powers in this
preparatory effort, his mind was darkened when the contest really
came, and he remained an impotent spectator of the struggle, by
which the liberties of his native land were at last permanently
established."

The Life of James Otis as narrated by William Tudor is one of the


most pleasant and instructive in the whole range of American
biographies, and leaves few particulars in the personal life of
Otis to be gathered by the subsequent investigator. The sketch
by Francis Bowen in Jared Sparks' Library of American Biography
furnishes additional and valuable illustrations of the character
and services of Otis, which were secured from the third volume of
Thomas Hutchinson's History of Massachusetts, (first published
after Tudor's Life of Otis appeared), from the copies of papers
in the office of the English Board of Trade relating to the
colonial history of Massachusetts, and from the private
correspondence of Governors Bernard and Hutchinson with the
English Ministry, during the time of Otis's public career. These
sources throw much light on the conduct of Otis as the chief
political opponent of the these two colonial executives.

It is the purpose of the present article merely to emphasize the


three striking traits of his character,--his impetuosity and
earnestness, his high integrity and devotion to truth and
justice, and his marked ability as an advocate before the bar.

In reading the memoirs of James Otis one is struck from first to


last with the impetuosity, the earnestness, the ardent temper of
his nature. This was at once the secret of a great measure of
his power and also the partial source of his mental undoing. As
a student at Harvard, the last two years of his college life were
marked with great assiduity in study, and while at home during
the vacations in this period, he devoted himself so closely to
his books, that he was seldom seen by his friends, and often it
was not known that he had returned, till he had been in his
father's house for some days. Such severe application doubtless
served to sow the first seeds of mental derangement, which
falling on the fertile soil of his feverish disposition and
nutured by the constant and intense argumentative strife of his
later political career, finally found their fruition in the
mental collapse which so distressingly darkened his latter days.
When participating in the common amusements of youth he exhibited
all the vivacity of an excitable temperament.

The earnestness of his nature led him to resign a lucrative


office, renounce the favor of government, abandon the fairest
prospects of professional emolument and distinction, and to
devote himself to the service of his country with unflinching
courage, quenchless zeal, and untiring energy.

As an orator the impetuosity of his speech and the earnestness of


his voice and manner were so impressive, that they forced
conviction upon his hearers even when his arguments did not reach
their judgment. Such was the fluency and animation of his
language, whether written or spoken, that though it was sometimes
coarse and defective in taste, it was always, as will be seen
from the examples quoted in this paper, extremely effective.

In political controversy the impetuosity of his nature led him to


be irascible and harsh towards his opponents and sometimes hasty
in judgment. But towards those whom he liked he was equally
effusive in expressions of regard, and was generous,
high-spirited and placable.

The fiery and impetuous temper of Otis is well illustrated


by the following anecdote given by Tudor, who, however, does not
vouch for its authenticity. Upon first taking his seat in the
house, a friend sitting near, said: "Mr. Otis, you have great
abilities, but are too warm, too impetuous; your opponents,
though they cannot meet you in argument, will get the advantage
by interrupting you, and putting you in a passion." "Well,"
said Otis, "if you see me growing warm, give me a hint, and I'll
command myself." Later on when a question of some importance
arose, Otis and this friend were on the Boston seat together.
Otis said he was going to speak, and his companion again warned
him against being irritated by interruptions from the opposition.

He soon rose, and was speaking with great fluency and powerful
logic, when Timothy Ruggles interrupted him; he grew warm in
reply, and his friend pulled his coat slightly. Otis scowled as
he turned round, but taking the hint moderated his tone. Soon
afterwards, Mr. Choate, of Ipswich, broke in on him again. This
aroused his temper, and his coat was pulled a second time;
turning round quickly he said in an undertone to his monitor,
"Let me alone; do you take me for a schoolboy?" and continuing
his address with great impetuosity he overwhelmed his opponent
with sarcasm and invective.

Without doubt James Otis was a strong man,--a man of strong and
positive character, whose friends and enemies were equally strong
in their feelings of like and dislike. The men who were ranged
as his enemies have for the most part been relegated to a second
place on the page of history (this does not apply to Thomas
Hutchinson, who in his official capacity was Otis's chief
political opponent, but who did not exhibit the personal enemity
of Bernard and others); while those who were his friends stand
out boldly among the notable characters of the past. As Otis
himself remarked concerning Charles Lee, we are not at a loss to
know which is the highest evidence of his virtues--the greatness
and number of his friends, or the malice and envy of his foes.
But friends and foes alike agree in ascribing to him a very
ardent temperament, though with the latter it is unjustly
regarded as violent. There is a great contrast between the
estimate of Otis given by Hutchinson (quoted below) and that
exhibited in the following extract from a long letter written by
Governor Bernard to Lord Shelburne, near the end of the year
1766, which is entirely filled with a review of Otis's career and
character, and is a curious specimen of studied calumniation.
The introductory remarks show sufficiently well the spirit of the
whole. "I would avoid personalities, but in the present case it
is impossible. The troubles in this country take their rise
from, and owe their continuance to, one man, so much, that this
history alone would contain a full account of them. This man,
James Otis, Esq., was a lawyer at Boston when I first came to the
government. He is by nature a passionate, violent, and desperate
man, which qualities sometimes work him up to an absolute
frenzy.--I say nothing of him, which is not known to be his
certain character, confirmed by frequent experience."

While sympathy for Otis made the public commonly ascribe the
alienation of his reason chiefly to the injuries received during
his encounter with Robinson in the British Coffee House, it is
fairly certain that the commencement of the disease dates further
back, and that the blows on the head hastened and aggravated an
already incipient malady superinduced by very different causes.

In the ardor and assiduity of his devotion to the colonial cause


Otis had overtaxed his mental powers. His fine faculties that
had been exerted so strenuously, and with such striking effect,
in the service of his country, were sinking under the excitement
and the effort which had sustained them in the heat of action.
For ten years he had abandoned the ordinary practice of his
profession and renouncing all recreation had given his entire
time and thought, himself, verily, to the "great argument" which
involved the welfare of the Colonies, and as we now see it, of
the world. To allow one idea exclusive occupancy of the mind and
constantly to ponder a single topic, is a very frequent and
almost sure cause of mental distress. It was his highest merit
and at the same time his greatest misfortune, that Otis permitted
this political controversy to have such an absorbing and despotic
command of his attention that melancholy consequences gradually
appeared and left little hope of his final restoration. His
excitable and passionate temperament allowed the fire to be soon
kindled, and nourished the flame in which his intellect, strong
as it had been, was ultimately destroyed.

Otis's mental malady first appeared in a form which was mistaken


for mere eccentricity of humor, and some time elapsed before his
oddities of fancy and conduct deepened into acknowledged
insanity. An incident which might have aroused the suspicions of
his friends occurred during the legislative session of 1769, when
at the close of a powerful and ingenious speech by Brigadier
Ruggles in which he had made a deep impression, Otis at once
arose and in an impassioned tone and manner which struck awe upon
all those present, exclaimed, "Mr. Speaker, the liberty of this
country is gone forever, and I'll go after it;" and turning round
immediately left the House. Some members stared, some laughed,
but none seemed to suspect the true cause of this odd behavior.

How, after the encounter with Robinson, this mental disease made
inroads on his fine powers, we best know from John Adams, who on
September 3, 1769, wrote: "Otis talks all; he grows the most
talkative man alive; no other gentleman in company can find space
to put in a word. He grows narrative like an old man." On
September 5th occurred the encounter with Robinson, one of the
Commissioners of Customs, at the British Coffee House, which
greatly aggravated his mental disorder. From this time on he was
a subject of some perplexity to the Whig leaders, though the
spell with which he influenced the people was long in breaking.
On January 16, Adams again wrote: "Otis is in confusion yet; he
loses himself; he rambles and wanders like a ship without a helm;
attempted to tell a story which took up almost all the evening. *
* * In one word, Otis will spoil the club. He talks so much, and
takes up so much of our time, and fills it with trash,
obsceneness, profaneness, nonsense, and distraction, that we have
none left for rational amusements or inquiries. * * * I fear, I
tremble, I mourn, for the man and for his country; many others
mourn over him with tears in their eyes."

In connection with Otis's charge against Hutchinson as to


rapacious office-seeking the following extract from John
Adams's diary is of curious interest. After detailing certain
detractions of which he had been the victim, the diarist breaks
out testily: "This is the rant of Mr. Otis concerning me. * * *
But be it known to Mr. Otis I have been in the public cause as
long as he, though I was never in the General Court but one year.
I have sacrificed as much to it as he. I have never got my
father chosen Speaker and Counselor by it; my brother-in-law
chosen into the House and chosen Speaker by it; nor a
brother-in-law's brother-in-law into the House and Council by it;
nor did I ever turn about in the House, and rant it on the side
of the prerogative for a whole year, to get a father into a
Probate office first Justice of a Court of Common Pleas, and a
brother into a clerk's office. There is a complication of
malice, envy, and jealousy in this man, in the present disordered
state of his mind, which is quite shocking." (Oct. 27, 1772.)

In this incapacity of Otis, who at last had to seek confinement,


Samuel Adams came to the front of the opposition to Hutchinson as
representing the government policy, and in nothing did he show
more adroitness than in the manner in which he humored and
exploited the colleague, whom, though sick, the people would not
suffer to be withdrawn, as is shown by the following resolution:

RESOLUTION ADOPTED AT A TOWN MEETING IN BOSTON, MAY 8, 1770.

"The Honorable James Otis having, by advice of his physician,


retired into the country for the recovery of his health; Voted,
That thanks of the town be given to the Honorable James Otis for
the great and important services, which, as a representative in
the General Assembly through a course of years, he has rendered
to this town and province, particularly for his undaunted
exertions in the common cause of the Colonies, from the beginning
of the present glorious struggle for the rights of the British
consituation. At the same time, the town cannot but express
their ardent wishes for the recovery of his health, and the
continuance of those public services, that must long be
remembered with gratitude, and distinguish his name among the
patriots of America."

During short periods of sanity, or of only partial aberration,


Otis's wit and humor, rendered more quaint and striking by the
peculiarities of his mental condition, made him the delight of a
small circle of friends. The following anecdote, admirably told
by President Adams, presents in a very graphic manner the
peculiarities of his character:

"Otis belonged to a club, who met on evenings; of which club


William Molineux was a member. Molineux had a petition before
the legislature, which did not succeed to his wishes, and he
became for several evenings sour, and wearied the company with
his complaints of services, losses, sacrifices, etc., and said,
'That a man who has behaved as I have, should be treated as I am,
is intolerable,' etc. Otis had said nothing; but the company
were disgusted and out of patience, when Otis rose from his seat,
and said, 'Come, come, Will, quit this subject, and let us enjoy
ourselves; I also have a list of grievances; will you hear it?'
The club expected some fun, and all cried out, 'Ay! ay! let us
hear your list.'

"'Well, then, Will; in the first place, I resigned the office of


the Advocate-General, which I held from the crown, that produced
me--how much do you think?' 'A great deal, no doubt,' said
Molineux. 'Shall we say two hundred sterling a year?' 'Ay, more
I believe,' said Molineux. 'Well, let it be two hundred; that
for ten years, is two thousand. In the next place, I have been
obliged to relinquish the greatest part of my business at the
bar. Will you set that at two hundred more?' 'O, I believe it
much more than that.' 'Well, let it be two hundred; this, for
ten years, is two thousand. You allow, then, I have lost four
thousand pounds sterling?' 'Ay, and much more, too,' said
Molineux.

"'In the next place, I have lost a hundred friends; among whom
were the men of the first rank, fortune, and power, in the
province. At what price will you estimate them?' 'D--n them,'
said Molineux; 'at nothing: you are better without them than
with them.' A loud laugh. 'Be it so,' said Otis.

"'In the next place, I have made a thousand enemies; among whom
are the government of the province and the nation. What do you
think of this item?' 'That is as it may happen,' said Molineux.

"'In the next place, you know, I love pleasure; but I have
renounced all amusement for ten years. What is that worth to a
man of pleasure?' 'No great matter,' said Molineux; 'you have
made politics your amusement.' A hearty laugh.

"'In the next place, I have ruined as fine health, and as good a
constitution of body, as nature ever gave to man.' 'This is
melancholy indeed,' said Molineux; 'there is nothing to be said
on that point.'

"'Once more,' said Otis, holding his head down before Molineux;
'look upon this head!' (Where was a scar in which a man might
bury his finger.) 'What do you think of this? And, what is
worse, my friends think I have a monstrous crack in my skull.'

"This made all the company very grave, and look very solemn. But
Otis, setting up a laugh, and with a gay countenance, said to
Molineux, 'Now, Willy, my advice to you is, to say no more about
your grievances; for you and I had better put up our accounts of
profit and loss in our pockets, and say no more about them, lest
the world should laugh at us.'"

This whimsical dialogue put all the company, including Molineux,


in a good humor, and they passed the rest of the evening very
pleasantly.

One of the few fragments in Otis' handwriting now extant, is a


memorandum made during the two years of transient sanity just
preceding his tragic death. Returning one Sunday from public
worship, he wrote: "I have this day attended divine service, and
heard a sensible discourse; and thanks be to God, I now enjoy the
greatest of all blessings, mens sana in copore sano" (a sound
mind in a sound body). But this gleam of reason was as transient
as others that had preceded, and with Bowen we willingly draw a
veil over the sad record of this most terrible misfortune of our
hero. "To be among men, and yet not of them; to preserve the
outward form and lineaments of a human being, while the spirit
within is wanting, or is transformed into a wreck of what it has
been; is surely one of the most impressive and affecting
instances of the ills to which mortality is exposed. It enforces
with melancholy earnestness the moral lesson, that the only
objects of the affections are the character and the intellect;
and when these are destroyed, we look upon the external shape and
features only as on the tomb in which the mortal remains of a
friend repose. We even long for the closing of the scene, and
think it would be far better if the now tenantless and ruined
house were levelled with the ground."

A nice sense of honor was perhaps the second most striking point
in Otis's energetic and strongly-marked character. Called by
reason of his fame as an advocate to the management of suits even
at a distance from home, and receiving the largest fees ever
given to an advocate in the province, he yet disdained to suffer
the success of any of his cases to rest on any petty arts or
undue evasions. Conscious of possessing eminent abilities and
sufficient learning he undertook to advocate no cause that he did
not truly and fully believe in. His ardent pleading and the
fairness of his dealing before the courts was the result of his
firm belief in the justice of his cause. Nothing but truth could
give him this firmness; but plain truth and clear evidence can be
beat down by no ability in handling the quirks and substitutes of
the law.

It was from this source as from no other that Otis drew his power
as a pleader. He was as John Adams records concerning his speech
on the "Writs of Assistance," "a flame of fire," but he was a
flame of fire set burning to consume the dross of injustice and
to purify and rescue the gold of liberty and fair-dealing.
Thomas Hutchinson, before whom Otis often pleaded and whose
testimony is of the greatest weight when we remember that Otis
was his political opponent, has said that he never knew fairer or
more noble conduct in a pleader than in Otis; that he always
disdained to take advantage of any clerical error or similar
inadvertence, but passed over minor points, and defended his
causes solely on their broad and substantial foundations. In
this regard Otis seems to satisfy Emerson's definition of a great
man, when in his essay on the "Uses of Great Men" the latter
declares: "I count him a great man who inhabits a higher sphere
of thought, into which other men rise with labor and difficulty;
he has but to open his eyes to see things in a true light, and in
large relations; whilst they must make painful corrections, and
keep a vigilant eye on many sources of error."

Indeed, it can be said of Otis as Coleridge said of O'Connell,


"See how triumphant in debate and action he is. And why?
Because he asserts a broad principle, acts up to it, rests his
body upon it, and has faith in it." The world is upheld, as
Emerson says, by the veracity of good men; and so the great power
of Otis as an advocate before the civil bar in the minor cases of
his career, and as an advocate of the people in the larger court
in the great case of his life, for the liberty of opposing
arbitrary power by speaking and writing the truth, arose almost
entirely from his absolute integrity and fairmindedness.
Clarendon's portrait of Falkland applies equally as well to Otis,
--"He was so severe an adorer of the truth that he could as
easily have given himself leave to steal as to dissemble." In
short, Otis acted aright, and feared not the consequences, and
thus became a power in the community because of his personal
character.

The great popularity that he immediately acquired he used for no


sinister or selfish ends. He stooped to none of the arts of the
demagogue; he was never carried away by a blind spirit of
faction. He opposed the arbitrary design of the English ministry
with great spirit and firmness, though with some indiscretion;
but he was no advocate of turbulent dissensions or causeless
revolt. He allowed himself to be ruled by the greater moderation
and prudence of his associates, while he inspired them with his
own resistless energy and determination.

No imputation can justly be thrown on the sincerity of his


patriotism, although the attempt was made by some of his
contemporaries.

When in 1764, Otis, as chairman of a committee of the Assembly


appointed to consider the status of the Sugar Act, favored the
commission of Hutchinson as a special agent of the Colony to go
to England and present the claims of the colonists, he was
accused of inconsistency in opinion and action, and of
dereliction of duty as the acknowledged leader of the patriotic
party. Combined with the extraordinary appointment of
Hutchinson, which however never took effect owing to the
opposition of Governor Bernard, Otis was also charged with a too
absolute recognition of the supremacy of Parliament in his
pamphlet on the Rights of the Colonies. As his father had
recently received a judicial appointment, of no great importance,
however, some persons went so far as to suspect Otis's fidelity
to the cause, among whom was John Adams, as we see from his diary
quoted elsewhere in this paper. People talked of a compromise in
which he was supposed to be engaged for gradually withdrawing all
resistance to the proceedings of the ministry.

Such charges, however, were but the indications of the


unsteadiness and injustice of fickle popular favor. The
sacrifices which Otis made for the cause, as told of by himself
in the narrative given in this paper, were far too heavy for his
patriotism to be doubted for an instant, and any remaining doubt
must certainly be removed by a glance at the official
correspondence of Governor Bernard in which he is from first to
last regarded as the chief opponent of the prerogative and is
subjected to much calumny on that account.

The selection of Lieutenant-Governor Hutchinson as the special


agent of the Colony, though appearing at first sight somewhat
strange, is easily explained and appears as the best possible
choice. He was a native of the province, and as such thoroughly
acquainted with its interests and desirous of promoting them. A
few years before he had given sound advice to both Houses in
relation to the very matter of the Sugar Act, counselling them
not to apply for a reduction of the duty, lest they should appear
as indirectly consenting to pay it under any circumstances;
advice which had prevailed against the preconceived opinion of a
majority of both branches of the legislature. Moreover,
Hutchinson's attachment to the interests of the crown, and his
intimate relations with the ministry, would enable him to
prosecute the suit of the province to great advantage, whereas a
known leader of the popular party in Massachusetts would not be
received with much favor at the Board of Trade, whatever his
errand.

As to Otis's rather unstinted recognition of the prerogatives of


the crown and the right of Parliament to tax the Colonies, we
remark that he had undoubtedly the same ends in view as the other
popular leaders, but he differed from them in the choice of the
means, the selection of arguments, and the proper mode of
conducting the controversy. All certainly desired to be exempt
from taxation and to secure freedom of trade; the question was
how best attain these ends and reconcile their pretensions with
the acknowledged principles of English law? Otis opposed both
the Sugar Act and the Stamp Act on the same broad principle on
which Hampden in England resisted the payment of ship-money,
namely, that neither measure was sanctioned by the
representatives of the people on whom these contributions for the
support of the government were to be levied. He was too good a
lawyer to question openly the abstract supremacy of Parliament,
or to deny the technical "right" of this body to tax America, or
to do anything else. But he affirmed that he could not
justifiably exercise this right unless representatives elected by
America were admitted to sit in the House of Commons. "When
Parliament," said he, "shall think fit to allow the colonists a
representation in the House of Commons, the equity of their
taxing the colonists will be as clear as their power is at
present of doing it, if they please." These opinions did not
coincide with the sentiments of the greater part of the people at
this period, and they were displeased with the explicit and
comprehensive terms in which Otis acknowledged the authority of
Parliament; they did not care to be reminded of their subjection
in such positive language. Otis's incautious use of words may
have led him to exaggerate the sovereignty of England over her
Colonies, but the course which he pursued was undoubtedly the
most judicious one for the interests of America.

That this criticism and disaffection concerning Otis was of short


duration, and justly so, is shown by the fact that at the end of
the legislative session he was appointed chairman of the
committee charged with securing the co-operation of the other
Colonies in a united effort of opposition to the scheme for
taxing America. That he was sufficiently alive to the true
interests of the Colonies and watchful of any imposition upon
their rights as subjects under the English Constitution, we may
cite one or two brief extracts from the letter of instructions to
the provincial agent in England, written by him and adopted by
the representatives. "The silence of the province," he says in
regard to the Sugar Act, "should have been imputed to any cause,
even to despair, rather than be construed into tacit cession of
their rights, or an acknowledgment of a right in the Parliament
of Great Britain to impose duties and taxes upon a people, who
are not represented in the House of Commons." "Ireland is a
conquered country, which is not the case with the northern
Colonies, except Canada; yet no duties have been levied by the
British Parliament on Ireland. No internal or external taxes
have been assessed on them, but by their own Parliament."

"Granting that the time may come, which we hope is far off, when
the British Parliament shall think fit to oblige the North
Americans, not only to maintain civil government among
themselves, for this they have already done, but to support an
army to protect them, can it be possible that the duties to be
imposed and the taxes to be levied shall be assessed without the
voice or consent of one American in Parliament? If we are not
represented, we are slaves."

The charge that Otis turned from his support of the government
policy because his father failed to receive the desired
appointment as Chief Justice is as unfounded as it is improbable.

The office of Chief Justice was worth not over a hundred and
twenty pounds sterling a year, and as Colonel Otis's practice at
the bar was worth much more than this, and his seat in the
legislature gave him all the power and reputation he needed, the
loss of the Chief Justiceship could not have been a very great
concern to him. On the other hand one of the first measures of
Otis in coming into public life was to resign his office as
Advocate-General which was worth twice as much as the seat on the
bench. Of course a person of his fiery disposition felt keenly
the insult involved in the rejection of his father, and doubtless
the event imbittered his language towards Hutchinson; but it
would hardly be likely to shape his whole political career when
public questions of such great moment were at stake.

There was no trace of meanness or selfishness in his disposition.

To be sure, Otis's admitted superiority over his legal associates


and the natural impetuosity of his nature sometimes made him
excessively dogmatic, and his manner though courteous even to a
fineness towards those whom he liked was imperious and even
unguarded toward his political enemies. At one time, having
cited Dormat (the noted French jurist, 1625-1696, author of "The
Civil Laws in their Natural Order," 1689) in the course of an
argument, Governor Bernard inquired "who Dormat was." Otis
answered that "he was a very distinguished civilian, and not the
less an authority for being unknown to your excellency." Yet
notice the high-minded courtesy exhibited in the following
incident: When Charles Lee was in command of the left wing of
the army with his headquarters at Winter Hill, in what is now
Somerville, he refused to have an interview and conference with
his old friend Burgoyne, then lately arrived in Boston, looking
toward the restoration of an amicable understanding between the
colonies and the mother country. Four months later, a letter
came from the Old World containing a warning that Lee was not a
man of trustworthy character. Otis was at that time the
executive head of the provisional government which had been
formed in Massachusetts, during one of the last of his lucid
intervals. On behalf of the government he sent a letter to Lee,
quite touching for its fairminded simplicity. The council had
come into possesssion of a letter from Ireland making very
unfavorable mention of Lee. It produced no impression upon the
council. "On the contrary," says Otis, "we are at a loss to
know which is the highest evidence of your virtues--the
greatness and number of your friends, or the malice and envy of
your foes." This was a most delicate and effective way of
offering good advice.

When he had suffered so cruelly at the hands of Commissioner


Robinson and his companions at the British Coffee House, and had
been awarded damages by the court, Otis's high spirit revolted at
the idea of receiving pecuniary compensation for a personal
insult; and Robinson's release drawn up by Otis himself is to be
found in the files of the Supreme Judicial Court of
Massachusetts, along with Robinson's written acknowledgment and
apology.

Next to his impetuous devotion to the true relations of things,


the source of Otis's power lay in his adequate preparation for
the life of an advocate. Bred to the law at a time long before
the pathway had been smoothed by the multiplication of elementary
works and other modern improvements, he yet fully mastered that
abstruse science, which perhaps does more to quicken and
invigorate the understanding than many of the other kinds of
learning put together. As a sufficient foundation for his later
legal studies he had pursued at Harvard, the foremost college in
the colonies, not only the regular undergraduate classical
course, but also the three years of work required for the
Master's degree. Moreover, in conformity with his views on the
necessity of a generous and comprehensive culture of the mind as
a means of success at the bar, or in any professional career,
Otis did not plunge at once from his collegiate courses into the
routine of the legal office; but allowed himself two years of
self-directed general study with a view toward further
disciplining his mind and widening his information. The subjects
thus pursued and the general culture which he acquired served to
open and to liberalize his mind in nearly the same proportion as
the assiduous study of the law was next to invigorate and quicken
it. In conversation with his brother he remarked, "that
Blackstone's Commentaries would have saved him seven years' labor
pouring over and delving in black letter." He appears to have
formed a very correct judgment respecting the nature of
professional education and the best means of mastering its
abstruse details. He constantly inculcated upon the young men
who came to study in his office the maxim, "that a lawyer ought
never to be without a volume of natural or public law, or moral
philosophy, on his table or in his pocket."

After two years of practice in Plymouth, he removed to Boston


(1750), where he found the larger field which was demanded by his
superior training and abilities; and he very soon rose to the
front rank of his profession.

The regard which he entertained for his master in the law is well
shown by his conduct as the opposing advocate during the hearing
on the Writs of Assistance, when Otis having resigned his post of
Advocate-General of the Province in order to champion the
people's cause, the vacancy was filled by the appointment of
Gridley. Otis held the character and abilities of his former
teacher in very high respect, and allowed this differential
feeling to appear throughout the trial. "It was," says John
Adams, who was present on this occasion, and from whom nearly all
the details of the course of this affair are derived, "it was a
moral spectacle more affecting to me than any I have ever seen
upon the stage, to observe a pupil treating his master with all
the deference, respect, esteem, and affection of a son to a
father, and that without the least affectation; while he baffled
and confounded all his authorities, confuted all his arguments,
and reduced him to silence." Nor was a suitable return wanting
on the part of Mr. Gridley, who "seemed to me to exult inwardly
at the glory and triumph of his pupil."

Though he made no pretensions to scholarship, some of his


writings showed a cultivated taste and a love of literary
pursuits, which were gratified so far as his numerous engagements
in public service would permit. With a literary taste formed and
matured by the study of Latin and Greek prosidy as constituted in
the best models of antiquity, it is not surprising that his
opinions on matters of criticism and scholarship were those of
the Odd school, and that he decried all the forms of innovation
in letters which had begun to show themselves in his day, and
which he regarded as affectations. His constant advice to young
people was if you want to read poetry, read Shakespeare, Milton,
Dryden, and Pope; throw all the rest in the fire. And with the
addition of but one or two names which have appeared since his
time, such counsel is judicious advice even to-day.

His abilities were, perhaps, somewhat overrated in the admiring


judgment of his contemporaries. His style as a writer was
copious and energetic; but it was sometimes careless, coarse and
even incorrect. His eloquence was better adapted to popular
assemblies than to the graver occasions of legislative debate; in
the halls of justice, it produced a greater effect on the jury
than on the judge. "The few fragments of his speeches that were
reported and are now extant give no idea of the enthusiasm that
was created by their delivery. The elevation of his mind, and
the known integrity of his purposes, enabled him to speak with
decision and dignity, and commanded the respect as well as the
admiration of his audience." While his arguments were sometimes
comprehensive and varied, they generally related only to a few
points which they placed in a very clear and convincing light.
His object was immediate effect. He had studied the art of clear
expression and forcible argument in order to act with facility
and force upon the minds of others to such an extent as to
convince them, and then to convert their conviction into action.
He employed the facility and the power thus gained not for any
personal agrandizement, but to advocate political reform for the
good of the whole people.

In the latter part of his speech on the Writs of Assistance, he


discussed the incompatibility of the acts of trade as lately
adopted by the English Ministry with the charter of the colony.
In so doing "he reproached the nation, Parliament, and King,"
says John Adams, "with injustice, illiberality, ingratitude, and
oppression, in their conduct towards the people of this country,
in a style of oratory that I never heard equalled in this or any
other country." As to the effect of this oration in increasing
the courage of the colonists, inciting them to scrutinize more
closely and resist more strenuously, the claims of the British
Ministry and Parliament, we have Adams's significant statement,--
"I do say in the most solemn manner that Mr. Otis's oration
against Writs of Assistance breathed into this nation the breath
of life."

The longest and most elaborate production from his pen is the
pamphlet on the "Rights of the Colonies." It affords a fair
specimen of his impetuous and inaccurate rhetoric, his rapid and
eager manner of accumulating facts, arguments, and daring
assertions, and the "glowing earnestness and depth of patriotic
feeling with which all his compositions are animated." It is not
surprising that a book written in this style caused the author to
be suspected of wildness and even of madness. But there was, as
Bowen remarks, a method and a good deal of logical power in his
madness.

The pamphlet was reprinted, circulated, and read in Great Britain


and even attracted the attention of the House of Lords. In
February, 1766, during a debate in that body on the disturbances
in America, Lord Littleton made some allusion to the peculiar
opinions of Mr. Otis, and spoke slightingly of his book. Lord
Mansfield replied, "With respect to what has been said, or
written, upon this subject, I differ from the noble Lord, who
spoke of Mr. Otis and his book with contempt, though he
maintained the same doctrine in some points, although, in others,
he carried it further than Otis himself, who allows everywhere
the supremacy of the crown over the colonies. No man on such a
subject is contemptible. Otis is a man of consequence among the
people there. They have chosen him for one of their deputies at
the Congress, and general meeting from the respective
governments. It was said the man is mad. What then? One madman
often makes many. Massaniello was mad, no body doubts; yet for
all that, he overturned the government of Naples. Madness is
catching in all popular assemblies, and upon all popular matters.

The book is full of wildness. I never read it till a few days


ago, for I seldom look into such things."

In some of his arguments he lays down general principles with a


quaint extravagance which marks the peculiar humor of the man.
"No government has the right to make hobby-horses, asses, and
slaves of the subject; nature having made sufficient of the two
former, for all the lawful purposes of man, from the harmless
peasant in the field to the most refined politician in the
cabinet; but none of the last, which infallibly proves that they
are unnecessary." "The British constitution of government as now
established in his Majesty's person and family, is the wisest and
best in the world. The King of Great Britain is the best as well
as the most glorious monarch upon the globe, and his subjects the
happiest in the universe. The French King is a despotic,
arbitrary prince, and, consequently, his subjects are very
miserable." The last specimen which we shall quote comes from
his defence of the objectionable passage in the remonstrance
drawn up by Otis on behalf of the Assembly of 1762 against
Governor Bernard's conduct in increasing the expenses of the
colony without previously obtaining the consent of the
Legislature. This passage was as follows: "No necessity can be
sufficient to justify a House of Representatives in giving up
such a privilege; for it would be of little consequence to the
people, whether they were subject to George or Louis, the King of
Great Britain or the French King, if both were arbitrary, as both
would be, if both could levy taxes without Parliament."
Afterwards in commenting on this passage he made the following
defense of its apparent unpatriotic sentiment. "It may be
objected, that there are some differences between arbitrary
princes, in this respect, at least, that some are more rigorous
than others. It is granted; but, then, let it be remembered,
that the life of man is a vapor that soon vanisheth away, and we
know not who may come after him, a wise man or a fool; though the
chances, before and since Solomon, have ever been in favor of the
latter."--"That I should die very soon after my head should be
struck off, whether by a sabre or a broadsword, whether chopped
off to gratify a tyrant by the Christian name of Tom, Dick, or
Harry, is evident. That the name of the tyrant would be of no
more avail to save my life, than the name of the executioner,
needs no proof. It is, therefore, manifestly of no importance
what a prince's Christian name is, if he be arbitrary, any more,
indeed, than if he were not arbitrary. So the whole amount of
this dangerous proposition may, at least in one view, be reduced
to this, viz.: It is of little importance what a king's
Christian name is. It is, indeed, of importance, that a king, a
governor, and all good Christians, should have a Christian name;
but whether Edward, Francis, or William, is of none, that I can
discern."

A passage ascribed to Otis during a session of the legislature at


Cambridge gives some idea of the character of his invective. It
had been said in defence of some measure that it had been taken
by the advice of Council, when Otis exclaimed, "Ay, by the advice
of Council, forsooth! And so it goes, and so we are to be
ruined! The Council are governed by his Excellency, his
Excellency by Lord Hillsborough, Lord Hillsborough by his
Majesty, his Majesty by Lord Bute, and Lord Bute by the Lord
knows who. This recalls to mind what used to be said when I was
a student in this place. It was observed at that time, that the
President directed the scholars how they should act, madame
directed the President, Titus, their black servant, governed
madame, and the devil prompted Titus."

The most comprehensive and just appreciation of the character and


work of Otis is given us by Francis Bowen in Jared Spark's
Library of American Biography. In part he says: "The services
which Mr. Otis rendered to this country were so conspicuous and
important, that it is difficult to form an estimate of his
character with the impartiality that history requires.
Gratitude might justly efface the memory of his faults from the
minds of those who have profited so largely by his patriotism and
his virtues. But it is not necessary thus to seek excuses for
his failings, or reasons for covering up the errors that he
committed. The defects of his temperament and conduct may be
freely mentioned, for they are not such as materially lessen our
respect for him as a man.
* * * * * * * * * * *
"As the vindicator of American rights, during the period of
colonial subordination, as the acknowledged leader, in
Massachusetts, of the constitutional opposition to ministerial
influence and parliamentary usurpation, the services of Mr. Otis
cannot be too highly appreciated.
* * * * * * * * * * *
"He was not permitted to witness the grand result of his labors.
He did not live to enjoy the final triumph; he can hardly be said
to have survived till the opening of the struggle. But the
historian who searches into the causes of this great event, and
seeks to determine the comparative merits of the men who achieved
it, will dwell long upon the services, and pay a just tribute of
admiration and respect to the memory of James Otis."

THE USE AND ABUSE OF ARBITRARY POWER, Including Tracts from


Burke, 0tis and Wilkes. By Charles K. Edmunds, Ph.D.

It is the honor of England that she had deposited in the virgin


soil of her colonies the germ of freedom. Nearly all at their
foundation, or shortly after, received charters which conferred
the franchises of the mother country on the colonists. These
charters were neither a vain show nor a dead letter, but really
did establish and allow powerful institutions which impelled the
colonists to defend their liberty, and to control the power by
participating in it as constituted in the grant of supplies, the
election of public councils, trial by jury, and the right of
assembling to discuss the general affairs. To us of to-day these
appear as common-sense or logically necessary rights; but we must
remember that in those early days of colonization they were
distinct privileges accorded in power to the colonists. And it
is in these very privileges that we behold the germinating
principle which was ultimately to bring to life the new republic
then as yet unborn. For as Thomas Jefferson afterward wrote,
"where every man is a sharer in the direction of his
town-republic, and feels that he is a participator in the
government of affairs, not merely at an election one day in the
year, but every day; when there shall not be a man in the State
who will not be a member of some one of its councils, great or
small, he will let the heart be torn out of his body sooner than
allow his power to be wrested from him by a Caesar or a
Bonaparte. How powerfully did we feel the energy of this
organization in the case of the embargo!"

Notwithstanding the widely different origin of the various


colonists, the circumstances in which they were placed were so
similar, that the same general form of personal character must
inevitably have developed itself, and produced a growing
consciousness of power and impatience of foreign imposition. The
proximate independence of America need not have been a certainty,
however, had the eyes of English statesmen not been blinded to
the truth of the principles urged by such men as Otis in America
and Burke in England. The causes which were to produce a final
rupture were, to be sure, already at work (their full operation
being delayed by the lack of union among the different
provinces), but there was at the same time a warm hereditary
attachment to the parent country, under whose wings the provinces
had grown up, by whose arms they had been shielded, and by whose
commerce, in spite of jealous restrictions, they had been
enriched.

Indeed life in the Colonies was so closely related to that in the


mother country that in a very marked degree, the history of the
Colonies is only the more practical and laborious development of
the spirit of liberty flourishing amid the conditions of life in
the new country under the standard of the laws and traditions of
the old country. As the eminent philosophical historian, M.
Guizat, has said, "It might be considered the history of England
herself." The resemblance is the more striking when we remember
that the majority of the American Colonies and the more important
of them were founded or increased the most rapidly at the very
epoch when England was preparing to sustain, and in part already
sustaining, those fierce conflicts against the pretensions of
absolute power which were to obtain for her the honor of giving
to the world the first example of a great nation free and well
governed.

How similarly the state of affairs appeared, in the eyes of those


who were not blinded by self-interest, on both sides of the
Atlantic, is shown by the following extracts from Burke and Otis.

In 1770 Burke thus described the social and political conditions


both at home and in the Colonies: "That the government is at
once dreaded and contemned; that the laws are despoiled of all
their respected and salutary terrors; that their inaction is a
subject of ridicule and their enforcement of abhorrence; that
rank, and office, and title, and all the solemn plausibilities of
the world, have lost their reverence and effect; that our foreign
politics are as much deranged as our domestic economy; that our
dependencies are slackened in their affection and loosened from
their obedience; that we know neither how to yield nor how to
enforce; that hardly anything above or below, abroad or at home,
is sound and entire; but that disconnection and confusion, in
office, in parties, in families, in parliament, in the nation,
prevail beyond the disorders of any former time, these are facts
universally admitted and lamented."

When in 1768 troops were sent to Boston to prevent a repetition


of the disturbances which had resulted from the arbitrary and
insulting manner in which the commissioners of customs exercised
their office, Otis was chosen moderator of the town meeting held
in protest, and is reported to have declared "That in case Great
Britain was not disposed to redress their grievances after proper
applications, the inhabitants had nothing more to do, but to gird
the sword to the thigh, and shoulder the musket." Another
account presents a somewhat more temperate tone, representing
Otis as "strongly recommending peace and good order, and the
grievances the people labored under might in time be removed; if
not, and we were called on to defend our liberties and
privileges, he hoped and believed we should, one and all, resist
even unto blood; but at the same time, he prayed Almighty God it
might never so happen."

The change from favorable conditions both in England and in the


Colonies to the state of unrest depicted by these passages from
Burke and Otis, had been brought about by the attempt to use
strong measures, enforced with no just regard for the welfare of
the whole people. The English Ministry failed to realize that it
is of the utmost importance not to make mistakes in the use of
strong measures; that firmness is a virtue only when it
accompanies the most perfect wisdom. Their course of political
conduct, combined with the establishment of a system of
favoritism both at home and abroad like that adopted by Henry the
Third of France, produced results of the same kind as the latter.

Members of parliament for the most part were practically


convinced that they did not depend on the affection or opinion of
the people for their political being, and gave themselves over,
with scarcely the appearance of reserve, to the influence of the
court. There was thus developed both a ministry and parliament
unconnected with the people, and we have the deplorable picture
of the executive and legislative parts of a government attempting
to exist apart from their true foundation--the opinion of the
people. How signally such attempts have always failed is a
matter of historical record. And the steadfast belief that they
always will so fail constitutes the great force of public opinion
to-day.

Had the English Ministry and the Colonial Governors, in


particular Governor Bernard of Massachusetts, recognized certain
cardinal principles of individual and national liberty, which
were so strongly advocated by Burke and Otis, the course of
events in their dealing with the colonists would in all
probability have been greatly different from that actually
developed. Burke declared that as long as reputation, the most
precious possession of every individual, and as long as opinion,
the great support of the state, depend entirely upon the voice of
the people, the latter can never be considered as a thing of
little consequence either to individuals or to governments. He
pointed out that nations are governed by the same methods, and on
the same principles, by which an individual without authority is
often able to govern those who are his equals or even his
superiors, namely, by a knowledge of their temper, and by a
judicious management of it; that is, when public affairs are
steadily and quietly conducted, not when government descends to a
continued scuffle between the magistrate and the multitude, in
which sometimes the one and sometimes the other is uppermost;
each alternately yielding and prevailing in a series of
contemptible victories and scandalous submissions. "The temper
of the people amongst whom he presides ought, therefore, to be
the first study of a statesman. And the knowledge of this temper
it is by no means impossible for him to attain, if he has not an
interest in being ignorant of what it is his duty to learn."

Of course it will not do to think that the people are never in


the wrong. They have frequently been so, both in other countries
and in England; but in all disputes between them and their
rulers, the presumption is at least upon a par in favor of the
people. History justifies us in going even further, for when
popular discontents have been very prevalent something has
generally been found amiss in the constitution, or in the conduct
of the government. As Burke declares, "the people have no
interest in disorder. When they do wrong, it is their error, and
not their crime. But with the governing part of the state it is
far otherwise. They certainly may act ill by design, as well as
by mistake. * * * If this presumption in favor of the subjects
against the trustees of power be not the more probable, I am sure
it is the more comfortable speculation; because it is more easy
to change an administration than to reform a people."

Very much the same ideas are presented by Otis in his article on
the "Rights of the Colonists," and the passage bearing on this
present topic will be given for comparison with Burke's
treatment. The pamphlet is divided into four parts, treating
respectively of the origin of government, of colonies in general,
of the natural rights of colonists, and of the political and
civil rights of the British colonists. The writer maintains,
that government is founded not as some had supposed on compact,
but as Paley afterwards affirmed, on the will of God. By the
divine will, the supreme power is placed "originally and
ultimately in the people; and they never did, in fact, freely,
nor can they rightfully, make an absolute, unlimited renunciation
of this divine right. It is ever in the nature of a thing given
in trust; and on a condition the performance of which no mortal
can dispense with, namely, that the person or persons, on whom
the sovereignty is conferred by the people, shall incessantly
consult their good. Tyranny of all kinds is to be abhorred,
whether it be in the hands of one, or of the few, or of the many.

The colonies were not at all unwilling to pay revenue to the home
government, if the manner of payment was just and right. They
were so far from refusing to grant money that the Assembly of
Pennsylvania resolved to the following effect: "That they always
had, so they always should think it their duty to grant aid to
the crown, according to their abilities, whenever required of
them in the usual constitutional manner." This resolution was
presented by Franklin, who was a member of the Pennsylvania
Assembly, to the Prime Minister of England, Mr. Grenville, before
the latter introduced the Stamp Act into Parliament. Other
colonies made similar resolutions, and had Grenville instead of
the Stamp Act, applied to the King for proper requisitional
letters to be circulated among the colonies by the Secretary of
State, it is highly probable that he would have obtained more
money from the colonies by their voluntary grants than he himself
expected from the stamps. Such at any rate is the claim of
Franklin, who was surely in a position to feel the pulse of the
colonies better than any other one man. "But he (Grenville)
chose compulsion rather than persuasion, and would not receive
from their good-will what he thought he could obtain without it.
Thus the golden bridge which the Americans were charged with
unwisely and unbecomingly refusing to hold out to the minister
and parliament, was actually held out to them, but they refused
to walk over it."

The action of the English Ministry in the matter of the tea tax
in particular, and of the whole question of American taxation in
general, is thus spoken of by Burke in his famous address in the
House of Commons:

"There is nothing simple, nothing manly, nothing ingenious, open,


decisive, or steady, in the proceeding, with regard either to the
continuance or the repeal of the taxes. The whole has an air of
littleness and fraud. * * * There is no fair dealing in any part
of the transaction."
* * * * * * * * * * *
"No man ever doubted that the commodity of tea could bear an
imposition of three-pence. But no commodity will bear
three-pence, or will bear a penny, when the general feelings of
men are irritated, and two millions of people are resolved not to
pay. The feelings of the colonists were formerly the feelings of
Great Britain. Theirs were formerly the feelings of Mr. Hampden
when called upon for the payment of twenty shillings. Would
twenty shillings have ruined Mr. Hampden's fortune? No, but the
payment of half twenty shillings, on the principle it was
demanded, would have made him a slave. * * * It is then upon the
principle of this measure, and nothing else, that we are at
issue."
* * * * * * * * * * *
"I select the obnoxious colony of Massachusetts Bay, which at
this time (but without hearing her) is so heavily a culprit
before parliament--I will select their proceedings even under
circumstances of no small irritation. For, a little imprudently,
I must say, Governor Bernard mixed in the administration of the
lenitive of the repeal no small acrimony arising from matters of
a separate nature. Yet see, Sir, the effect of that lenitive,
though mixed with these bitter ingredients; and how this rugged
people can express themselves on a measure of concession.

"'If it is not in our power,' (say they in their address to


Governor Bernard), "in so full a manner as will be expected, to
show our respectful gratitude to the mother country, or to make a
dutiful and affectionate return to the indulgence of the king and
parliament, it shall be no fault of ours; for this we intend, and
hope we shall be able fully to effect.'

"Would to God that this tender had been cultivated, managed, and
set in action; other effects than those which we have since felt
would have resulted from it. On the requisition for compensation
to those who had suffered from the violence of the populace, in
the same address they say, 'The recommendation enjoined by Mr.
Secretary Conway's letter, and in consequence thereof made to us,
we will embrace the first convenient opportunity to consider and
act upon.' They did consider; they did act upon, it. They
obeyed the requisition. I know the mode has been chicaned upon,
but it was substantially obeyed, and much better obeyed than I
fear the parliamentary requisition of this session will be,
though enforced by all your rigour, and backed with all your
power. In a word, the damages of popular fury were compensated
by legislative gravity. Almost every other part of America in
various ways demonstrated their gratitude. I am bold to say,
that so sudden a calm recovered after so violent a storm is
without parallel in history. To say that no other disturbance
should happen from any other cause, is folly. But as far as
appearances went, by the judicious sacrifice of one law, you
procured an acquiescence in all that remained. After this
experience, nobody shall persuade me, when a whole people are
concerned, that acts of lenity are not means of conciliation."

"0PP0SITI0N T0 ARBITRARY POWER," By John Wilkes, 1763.

While Otis and other patriots were opposing the arbitrary


measures of the English Ministry in their dealings with the
Colonies, certain men in England were equally as ardent in their
opposition to such a course whether pursued at home or abroad.
Most prominent among these were Edmund Burke and John Wilkes,
both members of Parliament. In this connection the following
extracts frown Wilkes' article on "Opposition to Arbitrary Power"
will be of interest. This article appeared in the famous No. 45
of "The North Briton," edited by Wilkes, who was very clever but
somewhat profligate.

* * * "In vain will such a minister (referring to Lord Bute), or


the foul dregs of his power, the tools of corruption and
despotism, preach up in the speech that spirit of concord, and
that obedience to the laws, which is essential to good order.
They have sent the spirit of discord through the land, and I will
prophesy, that it will never be extinguished, but by the
extinction of their power. Is the spirit of concord to go hand
in hand with the Peace and Excise, through this nation? Is it to
be expected between an insolent Excisemen, and a peer, gentleman,
freeholder, or farmer, whose private houses are now made liable
to be entered and searched at pleasure? The spirit of concord
hath not gone forth among men, but the spirit of liberty has, and
a noble opposition has been given to the wicked instruments of
oppression. A nation as sensible as the English, will see that a
spirit of concord when they are oppressed, means a tame
submission to injury, and that a spirit of liberty ought then to
arise, and I am sure ever will, in proportion to the weight of
the grievance they feel. Every legal attempt of a contrary
tendency to the spirit of concord will be deemed a justifiable
resistance, warranted by the spirit of the English constitution.

"A despotic minister will always endeavor to dazzle his prince


with high-flown ideas of the prerogative and honor of the
crown, which the minister will make a parade of firmly
maintaining. I wish as much as any man in the kingdom to see the
honor of the crown maintained in a manner truly becoming Royalty.

* * * * The prerogative of the crown is to exert the


constitutional powers entrusted to it in a way not of blind favor
and partiality, but of wisdom and judgment. This is the spirit
of our constitution. The people too have their prerogative, and
I hope the fine words of Dryden will be engraven on our hearts:
'Freedom is the English Subject's Prerogative.'"

JOSEPH WARREN'S OPINION OF GOVERNOR BERNARD, OTIS'S PRINCIPAL


ENEMY.

Governor Bernard's bad temper and bad taste in dealing with the
legislature may justly be ranked among the principal causes which
gradually, but effectually, alienated the affections of the
people of Massachusetts, first from the persons immediately
charged with the government of the province, and finally, from
the royal authority and whole English dominion. "With an
arrogant and self-sufficient manner, constantly identifying
himself with the authority of which he was merely the
representative, and constantly indulging in irritating personal
allusions, he entirely lost sight of the courtesy and respect due
to a co-ordinate branch of the government, and made himself
ridiculous, while he was ruining the interests of the sovereign
whom he was most anxious to serve. Even Hutchinson, as we learn
from the third volume of his History, though he was attached to
the same policy, and favored the same measures, censures the tone
of Bernard's messages as ungracious, impolitic, and offensive."

Popular animosity against Governor Bernard waxed exceedingly


strong during the controversy concerning the circular letter sent
by the Massachusetts Assembly to each House of Representatives in
the thirteen Colonies, in which the Colonies were urged to
concert a uniform plan for remonstrance against the government
policy. Bernard sent advices to England declaring that stringent
measures were imperative. Among those who were particularly
vehement in their denunciation of Bernard's character and conduct
was Joseph Warren, a young physician of twenty-seven years,
Otis's brother-in-law, for some time a writer for the papers,
who was even more drastic than Otis in his arraignment of
Bernard's tactics as governor, and who caused somewhat of a
sensation by publishing the following in the "Boston Gazette" of
February 29, 1768. (Warren was killed while serving as a
volunteer aide at the battle of Bunker Hill.)

"We have for a long time known your enmity to this Province. We
have had full proof of your cruelty to a loyal people. No age
has, perhaps, furnished a more glaring instance of obstinate
perseverance in the path of malice. * * * Could you have reaped
any advantage from injuring this people, there would have been
some excuse for the manifold abuses with which you have loaded
them. But when a diabolical thirst for mischief is the alone
motive of your conduct, you must not wonder if you are treated
with open dislike; for it is impossible, how much soever we
endeavor it, to feel any esteem for a man like you. * * *
Nothing has ever been more intolerable than your insolence upon a
late occasion when you had, by your jesuitical insinuations,
induced a worthy minister of state to form a most unfavorable
opinion of the Province in general, and some of the most
respectable inhabitants in particular. You had the effrontery to
produce a letter from his Lordship as a proof of your success in
calumniating us. * * * We never can treat good and patriotic
rulers with too great reverence. But it is certain that men
totally abandoned to wickedness can never merit our regard, be
their stations ever so high.

'If such men are by God appointed, The Devil may be the Lord's
anointed.' A TRUE PATRIOT.

Hutchinson tried to induce the grand jury to indict Warren for


libel on account of this intemperate attack. The jury, however,
returned "ignoramus," and the Governor had to bear the affront,
which was but one of a series directed against him during his
remaining days in America.

On the other hand, direct attacks were also made against Otis,
and some were marked by scurrility and coarseness of language,
which could not fail to arouse a man of his temper and fine sense
of honor. How he did regard them appears from the following
extract from a letter to his sister, Mrs. Warren:

"Tell my dear brother Warren to give himself no concern about the


scurrilous piece in Tom Fleet's paper. It has served me as much
as the song did last year. The tories are all ashamed of this,
as they were of that; the author is not yet certainly known,
though I think I am within a week of detecting him for certain.
If I should, I shall try to cure him once for all, by stringing
him up, not bodily, but in such a way as shall gibbet his memory
in terrorem. It lies between Bernard, Waterhouse, and Jonathan
Sewall. The first, they say, has not wit enough to write
anything; the second swears off; and the third must plead guilty
or not guilty as soon as I see him. Till matters are settled in
England, I dare not leave this town, as men's minds are in such a
situation, that every nerve is requisite to keep them from
running to some irregularity and imprudence; and some are yet
wishing for an opportunity to hurt the country."

OTIS'S AFFECTION FOR ENGLAND IN SPITE OF HIS OPPOSITION TO THE


ARBITRARY MEASURES OF HER MINISTRY. By Charles K. Edmunds, Ph. D.

Otis defended the rights of his countrymen by vindicating their


enjoyment of English liberty, not by asserting the demand for
American independence. He, however, sowed the seed without
knowing what kind of harvest it was to produce, for his writings
and speeches did more than those of any other man toward
preparing the minds of others for the final separation from
England. That such was his purpose he steadfastly repudiated,
and the following quotations from his pen exhibit full well his
attachment to the mother country and to the principles of her
constitution.

When in January, 1763, the joyful news was received at Boston


that the preliminaries of peace between Great Britain and France
had been signed, and that Canada was permanently annexed to the
former country, the colonists justly rejoiced, and a town meeting
was held of which Otis was chosen moderator. In the course of
his speech, Otis declared in his usual earnest way that "the true
interests of Great Britain and her plantations are mutual, and
what God in his providence united, let no man dare attempt to
pull asunder." Similar sentiments expressed by other leaders
among the various Colonies might be quoted. We give one more
from Otis's pamphlet on the "Rights of the Colonies," published
in 1765. In speaking of the colonists, he says: "Their loyalty
has been abundantly proved, especially in the late war. Their
affection and reverence for their mother country are
unquestionable. They yield the most cheerful and ready obedience
to her laws, particularly to the power of that august body, the
Parliament of Great Britain, the supreme legislative of the
kingdom and its dominions. These, I declare, are my own
sentiments of duty and loyalty." He angrily repels the charge
that the Colonies were seeking for independence, insisting that
the people had a "natural and almost mechanical affection for
Great Britain which they conceive under no other sense, and call
by no other name, than that of home. We all think ourselves
happy under Great Britain. We love, esteem, and reverence our
mother country, and adore our King. And could the choice of
independency be offered the colonies or subjection to Great
Britain on any terms above absolute slavery, I am convinced they
would accept the latter."
In 1769 he wrote: "The cause of America is, in my humble
opinion, the cause of the whole British empire; an empire which,
from my youth, I have been taught to love and revere, as founded
in the principles of natural reason and justice, and upon the
whole, best calculated for general happiness of any yet risen in
the world. In this view of the British empire, my Lord, I
sincerely pray for its prosperity, and sincerely lament all
adverse circumstances. Situated as we are, my Lord, in the
wilderness of America, a thousand leagues distant from the
fountains of honor and justice, in all our distresses, we pride
ourselves in loyalty to the King, and affection to the mother
country."

OTIS AS A PROPHET.

Otis was not much given to general speculations upon the future;
but there is something very striking in the following language,
taken from his pamphlet "The Rights of the Colonies," if we
consider how soon after there occurred the two great crises in
the world's affairs, the American and French revolutions. "I
pretend neither to the spirit of prophecy, nor to any uncommon
skill in predicting a crisis; much less to tell when it begins to
be nascent, or is fairly midwived into the world. But I should
say the world was at the eve of the highest scene of earthly
power and grandeur, that has ever yet been displayed to the view
of mankind. The cards are shuffling fast through all Europe.
Who will win the prize is with God. This, however, I know, detur
digniori. The next universal monarchy will be favorable to the
human race; for it must be founded on the principles of equity,
moderation, and justice."

JAMES OTIS. [1725 - 1783.] By G. Mercer Adam[3]

The character and life-work of few men belonging to the


pre-Revolutionary era are better worth studying than are those of
James Otis, the patriot-orator of Massachusetts, who took so
prominent a part in opposing England's obnoxious Stamp Act and in
arousing the American Colonies to a sense of the outrage done
them by the issue of the arbitrary Writs of Assistance. Though
the records of his personal life are somewhat meagre, sufficient
is known of Otis's public career to interest students of his
country's history and entitle him to the admiration of all, as
one of the most earnest and eloquent advocates of Liberty in the
Nation's youth-time, and a sturdy and noble defender of its cause
at the critical era of England's injustice and oppression. No
man of the period, it may be hazarded, did more yeoman service
than Otis did in the cause of American Freedom, or was more
sensible of the rights of the Colonists and of the injustice done
them by the Motherland in her assaults on their civil and
political status in the years preceding the Revolution. Not only
was he one of the most fearless asserters of the great principles
for which our forefathers fought and bled, but few men better
than he saw more clearly the malign character of the arbitrary
acts imposed upon the Colonies that brought about separation and
laid the foundation of American independence. In resisting the
enforcement of these Acts, Otis was actuated not only by
disinterested and patriotic motives, but by a statesmanlike
discernment of their unconstitutional character and the wrong
they would inflict, in being inconsistent with the foundation
charter of the Massachusetts Colony. Like many of the
Revolutionary fathers, Otis was not at heart a rebel, or from the
outset disloyal to the Crown in its administration of the affairs
of the Colonies. His occupancy of the Crown post of
Advocate-General and his own well-known integrity and
conscientiousness forbid that idea, not to speak of his pride in
the fact that his ancestors were English and for generations had
held high judicial offices and militia appointments in the gift
of the King and the ministry of the period. But though by
tradition and training, at the outset of his career, a subject of
monarchy and a true man in his official relations with England,
Otis was at the same time ardent in his interests for the
wellbeing of the Colonies and zealous for their rights and
privileges. When these came into conflict, the stand he took was
staunchly patriotic, even to the sacrifice of his office and its
emoluments; while in espousing the popular cause against the King
and the ministry he stood forth, as John Adams expressed it, as
"a flame of fire," full of consuming zeal for his country and an
ardent upholder of its rights and prerogatives. In assuming this
attitude, that Otis's zeal and energy were at times unrestrained
and his language occasionally unguarded and overvehement, is
doubtless true; but this was certainly excusable in a man of his
ardent temperament and strength of character; while the situation
of affairs was such as to call not only for patriotic enthusiasm,
but for righteous indignation and heated denunciation, in a cause
that stirred to the depths the heart and brain of an impetuous
and commanding orator. Nor do we well to forget what this
consuming, patriotic passion and heated vindication of his
country's rights cost Otis, in the responsibility he felt and the
solicitation he manifested, especially in the middle and later
stages of his strenuous career, for the cause he had so keenly at
heart. Pathetic is the story of the ailment that clouded his
closing years; and only exculpatory can be the judgment now
passed upon the man and his work when we consider what the strain
was that he had long and anxiously borne and that revealed its
effects in periods of sad mental alienation and incipient
madness. To speak and write strongly on taxation and its
injustice, in the case of the Colonies, might well, however,
disturb the mental equilibrium of even a strong man, and the more
so when actively protesting, as Otis long continued to protest,
against unlawful encroachments upon the liberties of the Colonies
and the other arbitrary acts that then characterized the
administration of the Crown. Whatever it cost Otis personally to
engage in this defence, the result, as we all now know and admit,
was only and wholly beneficent--in the defeat of an unrighteous
autocracy, and the emancipation of a Continent from a fettering
and baleful administration.

This herald of and actor in the great drama of his time was born
at West Barnstable, formerly known as the Great Marshes, in
Massachusetts, on the 5th of February, 1723. He was one of
thirteen children, his father being Colonel James Otis (born in
1702), the son of Judge John Otis, whose immediate ancestor had
emigrated from England in the preceding century and settled in
New England at the town of Hingham, calling the region after the
old home of the family in the Motherland. This John Otis, who
was born in A.D. 1657, became a prominent man in the Settlement,
was a member of the Council of the Colony, and ultimately became
Chief-Justice of the Common Pleas and Probate Court. Otis's own
father (Colonel James Otis) likewise became a lawyer and
publicist, a colonel in the local militia, and rose to a high
post in the judiciary and was a member of the Council of
Massachusetts. He married Mary Alleyne and transmitted to the
future patriot, the subject of this sketch, the talents and many
of the characteristics of his progenitors. A brother of our
hero, Samuel Alleyne Otis, rose to prominence in the politics of
the State and as Secretary of the Senate administered to
Washington the oath of office as President, holding the Bible on
which he was sworn as honored chief of the future nation. A
sister, Mercy, an ardent and loyal patriot, married the notable
republican, James Warren of Plymouth, and lived herself to write
a compend of the "History of the American Revolution," together
with a collection of patriotic verse.

James Otis, whom we know as one of the most eloquent orators of


the Revolutionary era and an ardent promoter of American
independence, was educated for his career at Harvard, which
institution he entered as a freshman in 1739, having previously
been prepared for college by the Rev. Jonathan Russell. His
university course, so far as can be gathered from any account of
it that has come down to us, was not a notable one, though he had
a fair scholastic career and graduated at the age of nineteen in
1743. While popular after a fashion at college, he was a bit of
a recluse and a diligent student of literature, with a
predilection, it is said, for music, playing well on the violin.
After graduating, he wisely spent two years in general reading
before entering upon the study of the law, which he did in 1745
under James Gridley, a prominent jurist of Massachusetts and
sometime Crown Attorney-General. Three years later, he was
admitted to the bar, and in 1748 began to practice his profession
at Plymouth, Mass. In 1750, he removed to Boston, and there
became known as an advocate of note and high promise, actuated by
nice professional instincts, with a fine sense of honor, and
keenly appreciating, it is recorded, his responsibilities in his
relations with his clients, which led him to accept only such
cases as he could conscientiously defend and take retainers from.

This characteristic scruple in the lawyer gave him a high


standing in his profession, and naturally led to success at the
bar, besides winning for him the respect and admiration of troops
of warm and attached friends.

About this time he appears to have developed uncommon gifts as an


orator, and his rather irascible nature gave scope to his keen
wit and powers of sarcasm. His extensive reading and ultimate
study of good literary models naturally bore fruit in the
practice of the forensic art and gave him prestige at the bar, as
well as, later on, in taking to public life and to the advocacy
of the rights of the Colonists in the controversy with the Crown.

In 1755, when he had attained his thirtieth year, Otis married


Ruth Cunningham, the daughter of an influential Boston merchant.
The lady, from all accounts, was undemonstrative and devoid of
her husband's patriotic ardor, traits that did not tend to
domestic felicity or lead, on the wife's part, to a commanding
influence over her vehement and somewhat eccentric husband. The
fruit of the union was one son and two daughters. The son
entered the navy, but unhappily died in his eighteenth year. One
of the daughters, the elder of the two, probably under the
mother's influence, angered her father by espousing the English
cause and marrying a Captain Brown, a British officer on duty at
Boston. The marriage was a source of irritation and unhappiness
to Otis, who, after his son-in-law had fought and been wounded at
Bunker Hill, withdrew with his wife to England, and was there
disowned and cut off by the irate patriot, whose affection was
also dried up for the erring daughter. The younger daughter, on
the other hand, was a devoted and patriotic woman, who shared her
father's enthusiasm for the popular cause. She married Benjamin
Lincoln of Boston, but early became a widow.

By this time, Otis had become not only a man eminent in his
profession in Boston, but a powerful factor in the public life of
the city. The New England commonwealth was then beginning to be
greatly exercised over the aggressions of the Motherland, and
this was keenly watched by Otis, who took a lively and patriotic
interest in Colonial affairs. Beyond his profession, which had
closely engrossed him, he had heretofore taken little part in
public life; his leisure, indeed, he had employed more as a
student of books rather than of national affairs, as his work on
the "Rudiments of Latin Prosody," published in 1760, bears
witness. As the era of a conflict with England neared, he
however altered in this respect, and became a zealous advocate of
non-interference on the part of the Crown in the affairs of the
Colonies and an ardent protester against English oppression and
injustice. Soon grievances arose in the relations between the
Colonies and England which gave Otis the right to denounce the
Motherland and excite dissaffection among the people of the New
World. These grievances arose out of the strained commercial
relations between the two countries and the attempt of England to
devise and enforce irritating schemes of Colonial control. Of
these causes of outcry in the New World the two chief were the
revival and rigid execution of the English Navigation Acts,
designed to limit the freedom of the American Colonies in trading
with West Indian ports in American built vessels, and the
insistence, on the part of the Crown and the British government,
that the Colonies should be taxed for the partial support of
English garrisons in the country. In the development of trade in
the New World, the Colonies reasonably felt that they should not
be harassed by the mother country, and so they permitted commerce
to expand as it would; and when this was enjoined by England they
naturally resented interference by her and began to evade the
laws which she imposed upon the young country and bid defiance to
the Crown customs officers in the measures resorted to in the way
of restriction and imposed penalty. This attitude of the
Colonists in ignoring or defying English laws was soon now
specially emphasized when the Crown resorted to more stringent
measures to curb Colonial trade and impose heavy customs duties
on articles entering New World ports. Flagrant acts of evasion
followed, and defiant smuggling at length brought its legal
consequences--in the issue by the English Court of Exchequer of
search warrants, or Writs of Assistance, as they were called, by
which it was sought to put a stop to smuggling, by resorting to
humiliating arbitrary measures sure to be resented by the
Colonies. These Writs of Assistance empowered the King's
officers, or others delegated by them, to board vessels in port
and enter and search warehouses, and even the private homes of
the Colonists, for contraband goods and all importations that had
not paid toll to His Majesty's customs. This attempted rigid
execution of the Acts of Trade, together with other arbitrary
measures on the part of the Crown which followed, such as the
imposition of the Stamp Act, and the coercive levy of taxes to
pay part of the cost of maintaining English troops in the
Colonies, was soon to cost England dear and end in the loss of
her possessions in America and the rise of the New World
Republic.

One of the most active men in the Colonies to oppose this


Colonial policy of England was, as we know, the patriot James
Otis, at the time Advocate-General of the Crown, who took
strong ground against the Writs of Assistance, arguing that they
were not only arbitrary and despotic in their operation, but
unconstitutional in their imposition on the Colony, since they
were irreconcilable with the Colonial charters and a violation of
the rights and prerogatives of the people. Rather than uphold
them as a Crown officer, Otis resigned his post of
Advocate-General, and became a fervent pleader of the popular
cause and denouncer of the legal processes by which the Crown
sought to impose, with its authority, its obnoxious trammellings
and restrictions without the consent of and in defiance of the
inalienable rights of the American people. Otis not only
resisted the enforcement by the King's officers of the odious
warrants and denounced their arbitrary character, but inveighed
hotly against English oppression and all attempts of the Crown
and its deputy in the province, the Lieutenant-Governor of
Massachusetts, to restrict the liberties of the people and impose
unconstitutional laws upon the Colony. The Writs of Assistance
were, of course, defended by the representatives of the Crown in
the Colony, and on the plea that without some such legal process
the laws could not be executed, and that similar writs were in
existence in England and made use of there on the authority of
English statutes. The pleas against them advanced by Otis took
cognizance of the fact that the Writs were irreconcilable with
the charter of the Massachusetts Colony, that English precedent
for their enforcement had no application in America, and that
taxation by the Motherland and compulsory acts of the nature of
the Writs did open violence to the rights and liberties of the
people and were inherently arbitrary and despotic, being imposed
without the consent of the Colonies and to their grave hurt and
detriment. In pleading the Colonial cause against the Writs,
Otis struck a chord in the heart of the people which tingled and
vibrated, while stirring up such opposition to them that the
authorities were fain to hold their hand and await instructions
from the English ministry as to their withdrawal or enforcement.
The response of the home government was that they should be
enforced, but little advantage was taken of this mandate in the
Colonies, since opposition to the Writs had, thanks to the
patriot Otis's denunciation of them, became almost universal;
while the people had been roused to a sharp sense of their
situation, in view of the tyrannous attitude of England towards
the Colonies, and the next step taken by the Crown, under Prime
Minister Grenville, in threatening them with the no less hated
Stamp Tax. This new fiscal infatuation on the part-of the
English ministry strained the relations of the Colonies toward
the Crown to almost the point of rupture. It was, moreover, an
unwise exhibition of English stubbornness and impolicy, since it
revealed the mistake which England fell into at the time of
considering the Settlements of the New World as Colonial
possessions to be held solely for the financial benefit of the
mother country, rather than for their own advancement and
material well-being. It is true, that the Seven Years' War,
which had been waged chiefly for the protection of the American
dependencies of the Crown, had left a heavy burden of debt upon
England which she naturally looked to the Colonies in some
measure to repay. But the Colonies had ready their argument--
they objected to being taxed without their consent, and without
representation in the British Parliament, besides being, as they
thought, sufficiently oppressed by the burden of customs' duties
already imposed upon them. The spirit of resistance therefore
grew, and was ere long to take a more determined and, to England,
fatal form, for the Stamp Act, though later on repealed, was
passed, in spite of the protests of the Colonial Assemblies and
the increasing soreness of feeling in America against the mother
country.

The like service James Otis did for the community of the New
World in opposing the Writs of Assistance he also did in opposing
the enforcement of the Stamp Act--remonstrances suggested by the
patriot's love of independence, and which, besides numberless
letters, speeches and addresses, drew from the
pre-Revolutionist's trenchant pen several able pamphlets, one
vindicating the action of the Massachusetts House of
Representatives, of which Otis was now a member, in protesting
against England's intolerance in laying grievous taxation on the
Colonies, and the others upholding the rights of the Colonies in
resisting the Crown's misgovernment, as well as its purpose to
tax the Colonies to defray some of the cost England had incurred
in prosecuting the French and Indian war. In these patriotic
services and labors, Otis, as a public man, took an active and
zealous part, besides conducting a large correspondence as
chairman of the House Committee of the Legislature on subjects
relating to the weal of the whole country. Nor were his duties
confined to these matters alone, for we find him at this period
engaged in controversies first with Governor Hutchinson, and then
with his successor, Governor Bernard, both of whom deemed Otis an
arch-rebel and incendiary--a man not only without the pale of
considerate treatment by lawfully constituted authority in the
Colonies, but the object of contumely and loathing by the
obsequious loyalists of the Motherland and all who desired her
continued dominance and supremacy in the country. History has
happily long since done justice to James Otis and seen him in a
fairer and far more worthy light--the light not only of a
patriot lover of liberty, but an ardent and invincible defender
of his country against autocratic encroachment, and a fearless
asserter of the principles which have become the foundation stone
of the American nation. In his masterful way, Otis was at times
heedlessly bitter and inveterate in his prejudices against the
mother country and the King's officers in the Colony; but we must
remember the strength as well as the ardor of his affection for
his native land and the righteousness of the cause he lovingly
espoused and so nobly advocated. We must remember also the
antagonisms he naturally aroused, and the hatreds of which he was
the object, on the part of loyal authority in the Colony which
feared while it traduced him. This is shown in the mishap that
befell him in a British coffeehouse in Boston, where he was
roughly assaulted by a man named Robinson, an ally of the revenue
officers whom he had denounced in an article in the Boston
Gazette, an attack that left its traces in the mental ailment
which afterwards distressingly incapacitated him and shortened
his bright public career. He nevertheless lived to see the
fruition of his hopes, in the throwing off by the Colonies of all
allegiance to Britain and take part himself in the battle of
Bunker Hill. The harvest reaped by his country from the seeds of
liberty he had planted in his day was such as might well cheer
him in the period of mental darkness which fell upon him and
regretfully clouded his closing years. Nor was he, in his own
era, without regard and honor among those who delighted in his
splendid patriotism, in the days of his manly strength, mental as
well as physical, and who held him in high esteem as a patriot
orator and the staunchly loyal tribune of the New World peoples.
In these days of flaccid patriotism and moral declension in
public life, his example may well stimulate and inspire. In his
wholehearted devotion to the hopes as well as to the interests of
the Colonies most notable was the polemical fervor with which he
espoused their cause and noble the stand he took for liberty and
independence.

Like many men who have attained eminence in public life, James
Otis was the victim in his day of detraction and envy. A
specially malignant slander was current with reference to him and
his father at the period of the patriot's resigning his Crown
post of Advocate-General. The motive for throwing up his
appointment and pleading the people's cause against the Writs of
Assistance, it was at the time said, was the disappointment of
the Otis family at the Chief-Justiceship, then vacant, going to
Governor Hutchinson instead of to Colonel James Otis of
Barnstable, father of our hero. This aspersion of the fair name
of the Otises as patriots and high-minded gentlemen, and the
lying assertion that it was this disappointment that led the
Otises, father and son, to abandon the Crown's side for that of
the people, was cruelly false, and especially so as Hutchinson,
who got the post, repeats the falsehood in his "History of
Massachusetts" in explanation of the Otises turning their coats
and becoming partisans of the popular cause. Nothing could well
be more unjust and untrue, for both men were of far too honorable
a character and too ardently patriotic to justify the slander and
give even the slightest color to the misrepresentation. Were it
necessary more emphatically to characterize the slander as false,
one might confidently point to the happy relations of the Otises
with the other patriots of the time--to men of the stamp of the
two Adams statesmen, to Hancock, Randolph, Warren, and other
leaders of the Revolutionary era, as well as to the contemporary
repute and influence of both men in the heroic annals of the
Colonial period. The times were indeed trying and critical, and
at the outset of the movement for independence and relief from
the irritating aggressions of the Crown, the attitude, we may be
sure, was closely watched and not over truthfully reported, of
men of influence who took the patriot side and helped on the
great cause which was afterwards to be gloriously and
triumphantly crowned.

But we pass on to relate, in a few brief words, what remains yet


to be told of James Otis's career, and of the pathetic declining
days of the hero and his tragic end. While mind and body were
intact and working perfectly in unison, Otis continued to give
himself heart and soul to the cause he had so patriotically and
zealously espoused. Even when his malady showed itself, there
were brief returns of useful activity and old-time mental
alertness, only, however, to be followed by sad relapses into the
eclipse-period of his powers. At periods of respite from his
ailment, Otis took part fitfully in his duties as member of the
Massachusetts Legislature, of which body he had been Speaker, and
did what he could to further the work of legislation. He also at
this time appeared once or twice as an advocate in Court, and
also continued his correspondence in Committee of the General
Assembly with prominent men in the other Colonies, seeking
successfully cooperation with them in the great drama of the
time. But for the most part we now find him a considerately
cared-for guest of his old-time friend, Colonel Samuel Osgood, at
the latter's farmhouse at Andover. Here the distinguished
pre-Revolutionist had phenomenal premonitions of the coming
manner of his death, related to his sister, Mrs. Warren, to whom
the patriot on more than one occasion said, that when God in his
Providence should take him hence into the eternal world, he hoped
it would be by a stroke of lightning! This tragic fate was ere
long to be his, for on the afternoon of May 23rd, 1783, when Otis
was standing amid a family group at the door of the Osgood
homestead at Andover, a bolt from the blue flashed down from
aloft and felled the hero to the ground. Death was
instantaneous, and happily it left no mark or contortion on his
body, while his features had the repose and placidity of seeming
sleep. Thus passed the hero from the scenes of earth, and in a
sense fitly, for the period was that which saw the close of the
drama of the Revolution he had been instrumental in bringing
about, and the departure from the soil of the new-born Republic
of the last of the English soldiery.

[3]Historian, Biographer, Essayist, Author of a "Precis of


English History," a "Continuation of Grecian History," etc., and
for many years Editor of Self-Culture Magazine.--The Publishers.

JAMES 0TIS ON THE WRITS 0F ASSISTANCE February, 1761.

May it please your Honours: I was desired by one of the court to


look into the (law) books, and consider the question now before
them concerning Writs of Assistance. I have accordingly
considered it, and now appear not only in obedience to your
order, but likewise in behalf of the inhabitants of this town,
who have presented another petition, and out of regard to the
liberties of the subject. And I take this opportunity to declare
that whether under a fee or not (for in such a cause as this I
despise a fee) I will to my dying day oppose, with all the powers
and faculties God has given me, all such instruments of slavery
on the one hand and villainly on the other, as this Writ of
Assistance is.

It appears to me the worst instrument of arbitrary power, the


most destructive of English liberty and the fundamental
principles of law that ever was found in an English lawbook. I
must therefore beg your Honours' patience and attention to the
whole range of an argument that may perhaps appear uncommon in
many things, as well as to points of learning that are more
remote and unusual, that the whole tendency of my design may the
more easily be perceived, the conclusions better descend, and the
force of them be better felt. I shall not think much of my pains
in this cause, as I engaged in it from principle. I was
solicited to argue this case as Advocate-General; and, because I
would not, I have been charged with desertion from my office. To
this charge I can give a very sufficient answer. I renounced
that office and I argue this cause from the same principle; and I
argue it with the greatest pleasure, as it is in favour of
British liberty, at a time when we hear the greatest monarch upon
earth declaring from his throne that he glories in the name of
Briton and that the privileges of his people are dearer to him
than the most valuable prerogatives of his crown; and as it is in
opposition to a kind of power, the exercise of which in former
periods of history cost one king of England his head and another
his crown, I have taken more pains in this cause than I ever will
take again, although my engaging in this and another popular
cause has raised much resentment. But I think I can sincerely
declare that I cheerfully submit myself to every odious name for
conscience' sake; and from my soul I despise all those whose
guilt, malice, or folly has made them my foes. Let the
consequences be what they will, I am determined to proceed. The
only principles of public conduct that are worthy of a gentleman
or a man are to sacrifice estate, ease, health, and applause, and
even life, to the sacred calls of his country. These manly
sentiments, in private life, make good citizens; in public life,
the patriot and the hero. I do not say that, when brought to the
test, I shall be invincible. I pray God I may never be brought
to the melancholy trial; but if ever I should, it will then be
known how far I can reduce to practice principles which I know to
be founded in truth. In the meantime, I will proceed to the
subject of this writ.

In the first place, may it please your honours, I will admit that
writs of one kind may be legal; that is, special writs, directed
to special officers, and to search certain houses, etc.,
specially set forth in the writ, may be granted by the Court of
Exchequer at home, upon oath made before the Lord Treasurer by
the person who asks it, that he suspects such goods to be
concealed in those very places he desires to search. The Act of
14 Charles II., which Mr. Gridley[4] mentions, proves this. And
in this light the writ appears like a warrant from a Justice of
the Peace to search for stolen goods. Your honours will find in
the old books concerning the office of a Justice of the Peace,
precedents of general warrants to search suspected houses. But
in more modern books you will find only special warrants to
search such and such houses, specially named, in which the
complainant has before sworn that he suspects his goods are
concealed; and will find it adjudged that special warrants only
are legal. In the same manner I rely on it, that the writ prayed
for in this petition is illegal. It is a power that places the
liberty of every man in the hands of every petty officer. I say,
I admit that special Writs of Assistance, to search special
places, may be granted to certain persons on oath; but I deny
that the writ now prayed for can be granted, for I beg leave to
make some observations on the writ itself, before I proceed to
other Acts of Parliament. In the first place, the writ is
universal, being directed "to all and singular justices,
sheriffs, constables, and all other officers and subjects"; so
that, in short, it is directed to every subject in the King's
domains. Every one with this writ may be a tyrant; if this
commission be legal, a tyrant in a legal manner, also, may
control, imprison, or murder any one within the realm. In the
next place, it is perpetual; there is no return. A man is
accountable to no person for his doings. Every man may reign
secure in his petty tyranny, and spread terror and desolation
around him [until the trump of the Archangel shall excite
different emotions in his soul]. In the third place, a person
with this writ, in the daytime, may enter all houses, shops,
etc., at will, and command all to assist him. Fourthly, by this
writ not only deputies, etc., but even their menial servants, are
allowed to lord it over us. [What is this but to have the curse
of Canaan with a witness on us: t o be the servants of servants,
the most despicable of God's creation?] Now one of the most
essential branches of English liberty is the freedom of one's
house. A man's house is his castle; and whilst he is quiet, he
is as well guarded as a prince in his castle. This writ, if it
should be declared legal, would totally annihilate this
privilege. Custom-house officers may enter our houses when they
please; we are commanded to permit their entry. Their menial
servants may enter, may break locks, bars, and everything in
their way; and whether they break through malice or revenge, no
man, no court can inquire. Bare suspicion without oath is
sufficient. This wanton exercise of this power is not a
chimerical suggestion of a heated brain. I will mention some
facts. Mr. Pew had one of these writs, and when Mr. Ware
succeeded him, he endorsed this writ over to Mr. Ware, so that
these writs are negotiable from one officer to another; and so
your Honours have no opportunity of judging the persons to whom
this vast power is delegated. Another instance is this: Mr.
Justice Walley had called this same Mr. Ware before him, by a
constable, for a breach of the Sabbath-day Acts, or that of
profane swearing. As soon as he had finished, Mr. Ware asked him
if he had done. He replied, "Yes." "Well, then," said Mr. Ware,
"I will show you a little of my power. I command you to permit
me to search your house for uncustomed goods," and went on to
search the house from garret to cellar; and then served the
constable in the same manner! But to show another absurdity in
this writ, if it should be established, I insist upon it every
person, by the 14 Charles II., has this power as well as the
Custom-house officers. The words are, "it shall be lawful for
any person or persons authorized, etc." What a scene does this
open! Every man prompted by revenge, ill-humor or wantonness to
inspect the inside of his neighbour's house, may get a Writ of
Assistance. Others will ask it from self defence; one arbitrary
exertion will provoke another, until society be involved in
tumult and in blood!

Again, these writs are not returned. Writs, in their nature, are
temporary things. When the purposes for which they are issued
are answered, they exist no more; but these live forever; no one
can be called to account. Thus reason and the constitution are
both against this writ. Let us see what authority there is for
it. Not more than one instance can be found of it in all our
law-books; and that was in the zenith of arbitrary power, namely,
in the reign of Charles II., when star-chamber powers were pushed
to extremity by some ignorant clerk of the exchequer. But had
this writ been in any book whatever, it would have been illegal.
All precedents are under the control of the principles of law.
Lord Talbot (the Earl of Shrewsbury, an English peer of the era
of William and Mary) says it is better to observe these than any
precedents, though in the House of Lords the last resort of the
subject. No Acts of Parliament can establish such a writ; though
it should be made in the very words of the petition, it would be
void. An act against the constitution is void. But this proves
no more than what I before observed, that special writs may be
granted on oath and probable suspicion. The act of 7 and 8
William III. that the officers of the plantations shall have the
same powers, etc., is confined to this sense; that an officer
should show probable ground; should take his oath of it; should
do this before a magistrate; and that such magistrate, if he
think proper, should issue a special warrant to a constable to
search the places. That of 6 Anne can prove no more.

[4] Otis's opponent--his legal preceptor--who argued in favor of


the Writs.

JAMES OTIS ON THE STAMP ACT. An Oration Delivered Before the


Governor and Council In Boston, December 20, 1765.

It is with great grief that I appear before your Excellency


(Governor Hutchinson) and Honours (of the City Council) on this
occasion. A wicked and unfeeling minister (Earl Grenville) has
caused a people, the most loyal and affectionate that ever king
was blest with, to groan under the most insupportable oppression.

But I think, Sir, that he now stands upon the brink of inevitable
destruction; and trust that soon, very soon, he will feel the
full weight of his injured sovereign's righteous indignation. I
have no doubt, Sir, but that the loyal and dutiful
representations of nine provinces, the cries and supplications of
a distressed people, the united voice of all his Majesty's most
loyal and affectionate British-American subjects, will obtain all
that ample redress which they have a right to expect; and that
erelong they will see their cruel and insidious enemies, both at
home and abroad, put to shame and confusion.

My brother Adams has entered so largely into the validity of the


act, that I shall not enlarge on that head. Indeed, what has
been observed is sufficient to convince the most illiterate
savage that the Parliament of England had no regard to the very
first principles of their own liberties.
Only the preamble of that oppressive act is enough to rouse the
blood of every generous Briton.--"We your Majesty's subjects,
the commons of Great Britain, etc., do give and grant"--What?
Their own property? No! The treasure, the heart's blood of all
your Majesty's dutiful and affectionate British-American
subjects.

But the time is far spent. I will not tire your patience. It
was once a fundamental maxim that every subject had the same
right to his life, liberty, property, and the law that the King
had to his crown; and 'tis yet, I venture to say, as much as a
crown is worth, to deny the subject his law, which is his
birthright. 'Tis a first principle "that Majesty should not only
shine in arms, but be armed with the laws." The administration
of justice is necessary to the very existence of governments.
Nothing can warrant the stopping the course of justice but the
impossibility of holding courts, by reason of war, invasion,
rebellion, or insurrection. This was law at a time when the
whole island of Great Britain was divided into an infinite number
of petty baronies and principalities; as Germany is, at this day.

Insurrections then, and even invasions, put the whole nation into
such confusion that justice could not have her equal course;
especially as the kings in ancient times frequently sat as
judges. But war has now become so much of a science, and gives
so little disturbance to a nation engaged, that no war, foreign
or domestic, is a sufficient reason for shutting up the courts.
But if it were, we are not in such a state, but far otherwise,
the whole people being willing and demanding the full
administration of justice. The shutting up of the courts is an
abdication, a total dissolution of government. Whoever takes
from the king his executive power, takes from the king his
kingship. "The laws which forbid a man to pursue his right one
way, ought to be understood with this equitable restriction, that
one finds judges to whom he may apply."

I can't but observe that cruel and unheard-of neglect of that


enemy to his king and country, the author of this Act, that, when
all business, the very life and being of a commercial state, was
to be carried on by the use of stamps, that wicked and execrable
minister never paid the least regard to the miseries of this
extensive continent, but suffered the time for the taking place
of the Act to elapse months before a single stamp was received.
Though this was a high piece of infidelity to the interest of his
royal master, yet it makes it evident that it could never be
intended, that if stamps were not to be had, it should put a stop
to all justice, which is, ipse facto, a dissolution of society.

It is a strange kind of law which we hear advanced nowadays, that


because one unpopular Act can't be carried into execution, that
therefore there shall be an end of all law. We are not the first
people who have risen to prevent the execution of a law; the very
people of England themselves rose in opposition to the famous
Jew-bill, and got that immediately repealed. And lawyers know
that there are limits, beyond which, if parliaments go, their
acts bind not.

The king is always presumed to be present in his courts, holding


out the law to his subjects; and when he shuts his courts, he
unkings himself in the most essential point. Magna Charter and
the other statutes are full, "that they will not defer, delay,
nor deny any man justice"; "that it shall not be commanded by the
Great Seal, or in any other way, to disturb or delay common
right." The judges of England are "not to counsel, or assent to
anything which may turn to the damage or disherison of the
crown." They are sworn not to deny to any man common right, by
the king's letters, nor none other man's, nor for none other
cause. Is not the dissolution of society a disherison of the
crown? The "justices are commanded that they shall do even law
and execution of right to all our subjects, rich and poor,
without having regard to any person, without letting to do right
for any letters or commandment which may come to them, or by any
other cause."

ANECDOTES AND CHARACTERISTICS OF OTIS, ETC. OTIS AND HIS FELLOW


PATRIOTS.

Professor Hosmer draws the following pictures of Otis and his


contemporaries:

"The splendid Otis, whose leadership was at first unquestioned,


was like the huge cannon on the man-of-war, in Victor Hugo's
story, that had broken from its moorings in the storm, and become
a terror to those whom it formerly defended. He was indeed a
great gun, from whom in the time of the Stamp Act had been sent
the most powerful bolts against unconstitutional oppression.
With lashings parted, however, as the storm grew violent he
plunged dangerously from side to side, almost sinking the ship,
all the more an object to dread from the calibre that had once
made him so serviceable. It was a melancholy sight, and yet a
great relief, when his friends saw him at last bound hand and
foot, and carried into retirement.

"Bowdoin, also, was not firm in health, and though most active
and useful in the Council, had thus far done little elsewhere.
Hawley, far in the interior, was often absent from the centre in
critical times, and somewhat unreliable through a strange
moodiness. Cushing was weak. Hancock was hampered by foibles
that some times quite canceled his merits. Quincy was a
brilliant youth, and, like a youth, sometimes fickle. We have
seen him ready to temporize, when to falter was destruction, as
at the time of the casting over of the tea; again in unwise
fervor, he would counsel assassination as a proper expedient.
Warren, too, could rush into extremes of rashness and ferocity,
wishing that he might wade to the knees in blood, and had just
reached sober, self-reliant manhood when he was taken off.

"John Adams showed only an intermittent zeal in the public cause


until the preliminary work was done, and Benjamin Church,
half-hearted and venal, early began the double-dealing which was
to bring him to a traitor's end. There was need in this group of
a man of sufficient ascendency, thorough intellect and character,
to win deference from all--wise enough to see always the supreme
end, to know what each instrument was fit for, and to bring all
forces to bear in the right way--a man of consummate adroitness,
to sail in torpedo-sown waters without exciting an explosion,
though conducting wires of local prejudice, class sensitiveness,
and personal foible on every hand led straight down to magazines
of wrath which might shatter the cause in a moment--a man having
resources of his own to such an extent that he could supplement
from himself what was wanting in others--always awake, though
others might want to sleep, always at work though others might be
tired--a man devoted, without thought of personal gain or fame,
simply and solely to the public cause. Such a man there was, and
his name was Samuel Adams."

OTIS AND ADAMS.

Professor Hosmer thus compares Otis and Adams:

"Otis' power was so magnetic that a Boston town meeting, upon his
mere entering, would break out into shouts and clapping, and if
he spoke he produced effects which may be compared with the sway
exercised by Chatham, whom as an orator he much resembled. Long
after disease had made him utterly untrustworthy, his spell
remained. He brought the American cause to the brink of ruin,
because the people would follow him, though he was shattered.

"Of this gift Samuel Adams possessed little. He was always in


speech, straightforward and sensible, and upon occasion could be
impressive, but his endowment was not that of the mouth of gold.

"While Otis was fitful, vacillating and morbid, Samuel Adams was
persistent, undeviating, and sanity itself. While Samuel Adams
never abated by a hair his opposition to the British policy,
James Otis, who at the outset had given the watch-word to the
patriots, later, after Parliament had passed the Stamp Act, said:

"'It is the duty of all humbly and silently to acquiesce in all


the decisions of the supreme legislature. Nine hundred and
ninety-nine in a thousand will never entertain the thought but of
submission to our sovereign, and to the authority of Parliament
in all possible contingencies.'"

OTIS AS AN AUTHOR.

In 1762, a pamphlet appeared, bearing the following title: "A


Vindication of the Conduct of the House of Representatives, of
the Province of the Massachusetts Bay: more particularly in the
last session of the General Assembly. By James Otis, Esq., a
Member of said House.

"Let such, such only, tread this sacred floor,


Who dare to love their country and be poor.
Or good though rich, humane and wise though great,
Jove give but these, we've naught to fear from fate.

Boston, printed by Edes and Gill."

Instead of copious quotations from this patriotic work, we


present the following judgment upon its merits by one best
qualified to estimate its worth. "How many volumes," says John
Adams, "are concentrated in this little fugitive pamphlet, the
production of a few hurried hours, amidst the continual
solicitation of a crowd of clients; for his business at the bar
at that time was very extensive, and of the first importance, and
amidst the host of politicians, suggesting their plans and
schemes!

"Look over the Declarations of Rights and Wrongs issued by


Congress in 1774.

"Look into the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

"Look into the writings of Dr. Price and Dr. Priestley.

"Look into all the French constitutions of government; and to cap


the climax, look into Mr. Thomas Paine's 'Common Sense, Crisis,
and Rights of Man;' what can you find that is not to be found in
solid substance in this Vindication of the House of
Representatives?"

THE TOWN MEETING.

Another important feature in the unfolding of our free


institutions, was the system of town meetings which began to be
held as early as 1767.

"The chief arena of James Otis' and Sam Adams' influence," as


Governor Hutchinson wrote to Lord Dartmouth, "was the town
meeting, that Olympian race-course of the Yankee athlete."

Writing to Samuel Adams in 1790 John Adams, looking back to the


effect of these events, says:

"Your Boston town meetings and our Harvard College have set the
universe in motion."

One held in October of 1767 was presided over by James Otis, and
was called to resist new acts of British aggression on colonial
rights. On September 12, 1768, a town meeting was held, which
was opened with a prayer by Dr. Cooper. Otis was chosen
moderator.

The petition for calling the meeting requested, that inquiry


should be made of his Excellency, for "the grounds and reasons of
sundry declarations made by him, that three regiments might be
daily expected," etc.

A committee was appointed to wait upon the governor, urging him


in the present critical state of affairs to issue precepts for a
general assembly of the province, to take suitable measures for
the preservation of their rights and privileges; and that he
should be requested to favor the town with an immediate answer.

In October several ship-loads of troops arrive.

The storm thickens.


Another town meeting is called, and it is voted that the several
ministers of the Gospel be requested to appoint the next Tuesday
as a day of fasting and prayer.

The day arrives, and the place of meeting is crowded by


committees from sixty-two towns.

They petition the governor to call a General Court. Otis


appeared in behalf of the people, under circumstances that
strongly, attest his heroism.

Cannon were planted at the entrance of the building, and a body


of troops were quartered in the representatives' chamber.

After the court was opened, Otis rose, and moved that they should
adjourn to Faneuil Hall.

With a significant expression of loathing and scorn, he observed,


"that the stench occasioned by the troops in the hall of
legislation might prove infectious, and that it was utterly
derogatory to the court to administer justice at the points of
bayonets and mouths of cannon."

JAMES OTIS AT THE BATTLE OF BUNKER HILL.

In the sketch of the life of James Otis, as presented in


Appleton's "Cyclopedia of American Biography," an interesting
account is given of the part James Otis played in the noted
battle of Bunker Hill, in June, 1775.

The minute men who, hastening to the front, passed by the house
of the sister of James Otis, with whom he was living, at
Watertown, Mass.

At this time he was harmlessly insane, and did not need special
watching.

But, as he saw the patriotic farmers hurrying by and heard of the


rumor of the impending conflict, he was suddenly seized with a
martial spirit. Without saying a word to a single soul, he
slipped away unobserved and hurried on towards Boston. On the
roadside he stopped at a farmhouse and borrowed a musket, there
being nothing seemingly in his manner to suggest mental
derangement. Throwing the musket upon his shoulder he hastened
on, and was soon joined by the minute men coming from various
directions. "Falling in" with them, he took an active part in
that eventful contest until darkness closed in upon the
combatants. Then, wearied beyond description, though he was, he
set out for home after midnight. He afterwards pursued his sad
and aimless life, as though nothing unusual had occurred.

INFLUENCE OF THE BATTLE OF BUNKER HILL

Two days before the battle of Bunker Hill Washington had been
appointed by the Continental Congress Commander in Chief.
The news of the battle was brought. Foreseeing the significance
of the result he said, "The liberties of the country are safe."

Four days afterward Thomas Jefferson entered Congress and the


next day news was brought of the Charlestown conflict. "This put
fire into his ideal statesmanship." Patrick Henry hearing of it
said, "I am glad of it; a breach of our affections was needed to
rouse the country to action."

Franklin wrote to his English friends: "England has lost her


colonies forever."

THE ANCESTORS OF JAMES OTIS.

Carlyle says: "I never knew a clever man who came out of entirely
stupid people." James Otis's great qualities "were an
inheritance, not an accident, and inheritance from the best blood
of old England." Many years ago, when George Ticknor of Boston
was a guest of Lady Holland, at the famous Holland House, in
London, her ladyship remarked to him, in her not very engaging
way:

"I understand, Mr. Ticknor, that Massachusetts was settled by


convicts."

"Indeed," said Mr. Ticknor, "I thought I was somewhat familiar


with the history of my State, but I was not aware that what you
say was the case."

"But," he continued, "I do now remember that some of your


ladyship's ancestors settled in Boston, for there is a monument
to one of them in King's Chapel."

James Otis inherited that sturdy New England pride which puts
manhood above dukedoms and coronets.

"A king may make a belted knight,


A marquis, duke and a' that,
But an honest man's aboon his might."

From a race of the true kings of men he was descended, who


conquered out of the jaws of the wilderness the priceless
inheritance of American privilege and freedom. And while kings
at home were trying to crush out the liberties of their subjects,
or were dallying with wantons in the palaces built out of the
unrequited toil of the long-suffering and downtrodden people,
these men of iron were the pioneers of American civilization, at
a time, which Holmes so graphically describes:

"When the crows came cawing through the air


To pluck the Pilgrim's corn,
And bears came snuffing round the door
Wherever a babe was born;
And rattlesnakes were bigger round
Than the butt of the old ram's horn
The deacon blew at meeting time,
On every Sabbath morn."

COL. BARRE ON JAMES OTIS.

In the debate on the Boston Port Bill in Parliament, April 15th,


1774, Colonel Barre referred to the ruffianly attack made on Mr.
Otis, and his treatment of the injury, in a manner that reflects
honor on both of the orators.

"Is this the return you make them?" inquired the British
statesman.

"When a commissioner of the customs, aided by a number of


ruffians, assaulted the celebrated Mr. Otis, in the midst of the
town of Boston, and with the most barbarous violence almost
murdered him, did the mob, which is said to rule that town, take
vengeance on the perpetrators of this inhuman outrage against a
person who is supposed to be their demagogue?

"No, sir, the law tried them, the law gave heavy damages against
them, which the irreparably injured Mr. Otis most generously
forgave, upon an acknowledgment of the offense.

"Can you expect any more such instances of magnanimity under the
principle of the Bill now proposed?"

THE GENEROSITY OF OTIS.

He was distinguished for generosity to both friends and foes.


Governor Hutchinson said of him: "that he never knew fairer or
more noble conduct in a speaker, than in Otis; that he always
disdained to take advantage of any clerical error, or similar
inadvertence, but passed over minor points, and defended his
causes solely on their broad and substantial foundations."

JOHN ADAMS ON OTIS.

But in that contest over the "Writs of Assistance," there was


something nobler exhibited than superiority to mercenary
consideration.

"It was," says the Venerable President, John Adams, "a moral
spectacle more affecting to me than any I have since seen upon
the stage, to observe a pupil treating his master with all the
deference, respect, esteem, and affection of a son to a father,
and that without the least affectation; while he baffled and
confounded all his authorities, confuted all his arguments, and
reduced him to silence!

"The crown, by its agents, accumulated construction upon


construction, and inference upon inference, as the giants heaped
Pelion upon Ossa; but Otis, like Jupiter, dashed this whole
building to pieces, and scattered the pulverized atoms to the
four winds; and no judge, lawyer, or crown officer dared to say,
why do ye so?
"He raised such a storm of indignation, that even Hutchinson, who
had been appointed on purpose to sanction this writ, dared not
utter a word in its favor, and Mr. Gridley himself seemed to me
to exult inwardly at the glory and triumph of his pupil."

OTIS COMPARED WITH RANDOLPH.

"The wit exemplified by Mr. Otis in debate," says Dr. Magoon,


"was often keen but never malignant, as in John Randolph. The
attacks of the latter were often fierce and virulent, not
unfrequently in an inverse proportion to the necessity of the
case.

"He would yield himself up to a blind and passionate obstinacy,


and lacerate his victims for no apparent reason but the mere
pleasure of inflicting pangs.

"In this respect, the orator of Roanoke resembled the Sicilian


tyrant whose taste for cruelty led him to seek recreation in
putting insects to the torture. If such men cannot strike strong
blows, they know how to fight with poisonous weapons; thus by
their malignity, rather than by their honorable skill, they can
bring the noblest antagonist to the ground.

"But Mr. Otis pursued more dignified game and with a loftier
purpose.

"He indeed possessed a Swiftian gift of sarcasm, but, unlike the


Dean of St. Patrick's, and the forensic gladiator alluded to
above, he never employed it in a spirit of hatred and contempt
towards the mass of mankind.

"Such persons should remember the words of Colton, that, 'Strong


and sharp as our wit may be, it is not so strong as the memory of
fools, nor so keen as their resentment; he that has strength of
mind to forgive, is by no means weak enough to forget; and it is
much more easy to do a cruel thing than to say a severe one.'"

ORATORICAL POWERS

Many of the most effective orators, of all ages, have not been
most successful in long and formal efforts. Nor have they always
been close and ready debaters. "Sudden bursts which seemed to be
the effect of inspiration--short sentences which came like
lightning, dazzling, burning, striking down everything before
them--sentences which, spoken at critical moments, decided the
fate of great questions--sentences which at once became proverbs
--sentences which everybody still knows by heart"--in these
chiefly lay the oratorical power of Mirabeau and Chatham, Patrick
Henry and James Otis.--E. L. Magoon.

THE ELOQUENCE OF OTIS.

Otis was naturally elevated in thought, and dwelt with greatest


delight in the calm contemplation of the lofty principles which
should govern political and moral conduct.

And yet he was keenly suspectible to excitement. His intellect


explored the wilderness of the universe only to increase the
discontent of those noble aspirations of his soul which were
never at rest.

In early manhood he was a close student, but as he advanced in


age he became more and more absorbed in public action.

As ominous storms threatened the common weal, he found less


delight in his library than in the stern strife of the forum.

As he prognosticated the coming tempest and comprehended its


fearful issue, he became transformed in aspect like one inspired.

His appearance in public always commanded prompt and profound


attention; he both awed and delighted the multitudes whom his
bold wisdom so opportunely fortified.

"Old South," the "Old Court House," and the "Cradle of liberty,"
in Boston, were familiar with his eloquence, that resounded like
a cheerful clarion in "days that tried men's souls." It was then
that his great heart and fervid intellect wrought with
disinterested and noble zeal; his action became vehement, and his
eyes flashed with unutterable fire; his voice, distinct,
melodious, swelling, and increasing in height and depth with each
new and bolder sentiment, filled, as with the palpable presence
of a deity, the shaking walls. The listeners became rapt and
impassioned like the speaker, till their very breath forsook
them.

He poured forth a "flood of argument and passion" which achieved


the sublimes" earthly good, and happily exemplified the
description which Percival has given of indignant patriotism
expressed in eloquence:

"Its words
Are few, but deep and solemn, and they break
Fresh from the fount of feeling, and are full
Of all that passion, which, on Carmel, fired
The holy prophet, when his lips were coals,
The language winged with terror, as when bolts
Leap from the brooding tempest, armed with wrath
Commissioned to affright us, and destroy."--E. L. Magoon.

OTIS COMPARED WITH AMERICAN ORATORS.

"His eloquence, like that of his distinguished successors, was


marked by a striking individuality.

"It did not partake largely of the placid firmness of Samuel


Adams; or of the intense brilliancy and exquisite taste of the
younger Quincy; or the subdued and elaborate beauty of Lee; or
the philosophical depth of John Adams; or the rugged and
overwhelming energy of Patrick Henry; though he, most of all
Americans, resembled the latter."--E. L. Magoon.

OTIS COMPARED WITH ENGLISH ORATORS.

"Compared with English orators," Dr. Magoon says, "our great


countryman was not unlike Sheridan in natural endowment.

"Like him, he was unequaled in impassioned appeals to the general


heart of mankind.

"He swayed all by his electric fire; charmed the timid, and
inspired the weak; subdued the haughty, and enthralled the
prejudiced.

"He traversed the field of argument and invective as a Scythian


warrior scours the plain, shooting most deadly arrows when at the
greatest speed.

"He rushed into forensic battle, fearless of all consequences;


and as the ancient war-chariot would sometimes set its axle on
fire by the rapidity of its own movement, so would the ardent
soul of Otis become ignited and fulminate with thought, as he
swept irresistibly to the goal.

"When aroused by some great crisis, his eloquent words were like
bolts of granite heated in a volcano, and shot forth with
unerring aim, crashing where they fell."

PHYSICAL APPEARANCE.

In respect to physical ability, Otis was happily endowed. One


who knew him well has recorded, that "he was finely formed, and
had an intelligent countenance: his eye, voice, and manner were
very impressive.

"The elevation of his mind, and the known integrity of his


purposes, enabled him to speak with decision and dignity, and
commanded the respect as well as the admiration of his audience.

"His eloquence showed but little imagination, yet it was instinct


with the fire of passion."

"It may be not unjustly said of Otis, as of Judge Marshall, that


he was one of those rare beings that seem to be sent among men
from time to time, to keep alive our faith in humanity.

"He had a wonderful power over the popular feelings, but he


employed it only for great public benefits. He seems to have
said to himself, in the language of the great master of the
maxims of life and conduct:

"This above all,--to thine own self be true,


And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man."
PORTRAIT OF OTIS.

The portrait of James Otis, Jr., published as a frontispiece to


this sketch, is from the oil-painting loaned to the Bostonian
Society, by Harrison Gray Otis, of Winthrop, Massachusetts. The
painting from which it is taken, now hanging in the Old State
House of Boston, is a reproduction of the original portrait by I.
Blackburn, to whom Mr. Otis sat for his portrait in 1755. The
original in possession of Mrs. Rogers, a descendant of James
Otis, may be seen at her residence, No. 8 Otis Place, Boston.
But the original is not so well adapted as is the copy to
photographic reproduction. The two portraits are identical in
feature and character, but the original having a light background
offends the camera.

THE SOURCE AND OCCASION OF THE WAR OF THE REVOLUTION.

"The question is, perhaps more curious than profitable, that


relates to the source and occasion of the first of that series of
events which produced the war of the Revolution. Men have often
asked, what was its original cause, and who struck the first
blow? This inquiry was well answered by President Jefferson, in
a letter to Dr. Waterhouse of Cambridge, written March 3rd, 1818.

"'I suppose it would be difficult to trace our Revolution to its


first embryo. We do not know how long it was hatching in the
British cabinet, before they ventured to make the first of the
experiments which were to develop it in the end, and to produce
complete parliamentary supremacy.

"'Those you mention in Massachusetts as preceding the Stamp Act


might be the first visible symptoms of that design. The
proposition of that Act, in 1764, was the first here. Your
opposition, therefore, preceded ours, as occasion was sooner
given there than here, and the truth, I suppose, is, that the
opposition, in every colony, began whenever the encroachment was
presented to it.

"'This question of priority is as the inquiry would be, who first


of the three hundred Spartans offered his name to Leonidas. I
shall be happy to see justice done to the merits of all.'"

"In the primitive opposition made by Otis to the arbitrary acts


of Trade, aided by the Writs of Assistance, he announced two
maxims which lay at the foundation of all the subsequent war; one
was, that 'taxation without representation was tyranny,' the
other, 'that expenditures of public money without appropriations
by the representatives of the people, were arbitrary, and
therefore unconstitutional. '"

"This early and acute sagacity of our statesman, led Burke finely
to describe the political feeling in America as follows;

"'In other countries, the people, more simple, of a less


mercurial cast, judge of an ill principle in government, only by
an actual grievance; here they anticipate the evil, and judge of
the pressure of the grievance, by the badness of the principle.
"'They augur misgovernment at a distance; and snuff the approach
of tyranny in every tainted breeze.'"--E. L. Magoon.

STAMPS AND THE STAMP ACT.

During Robert Walpole's administration [1732], a stamp duty was


proposed. He said "I will leave the taxation of America to some
of my successors, who have more courage than I have."

Sir William Keith, governor of Pennsylvania, proposed a tax in


1739. Franklin thought it just, when a delegate in the Colonial
Congress at Albany, in 1754. But when it was proposed to Pitt in
1759 the great English statesman said: "I will never burn my
fingers with the American stamp act."

THE STAMPS.

The stamps were upon blue paper, and were to be attached to every
piece of paper or parchment, on which a legal instrument was
written. For these stamps the Government charged specific
prices, for example, for a common property deed, one shilling and
sixpence.

THE MINUTE-MAN OF THE REVOLUTION.

The Minute-man of the Revolution! He was the old, the


middle-aged, and the young. He was Capt. Miles, of Concord, who
said that he went to battle as he went to church. He was Capt.
Davis, of Acton, who reproved his men for jesting on the march.
He was Deacon Josiah Haynes, of Sudbury, 80 years old, who
marched with his company to the South Bridge at Concord, then
joined in the hot pursuit to Lexington, and fell as gloriously as
Warren at Bunker Hill. He was James Hayward, of Acton, 22 years
old, foremost in that deadly race from Concord to Charlestown,
who raised his piece at the same moment with a British soldier,
each exclaiming, "You are a dead man!" The Briton dropped, shot
through the heart.

James Hayward fell mortally wounded. "Father," he said, "I


started with forty balls; I have three left. I never did such a
day's work before. Tell mother not to mourn too much, and tell
her whom I love more than my mother, that I am not sorry I turned
out."--George W. Curtis.

THE BOSTON COMMON SCHOOLS.

The Boston Common Schools were the pride of the town. They were
most jealously guarded, and were opened each day with public
prayer.

They were the nurseries of a true democracy. In them the men who
played the most important part in the Revolutionary period
received their early education.
The Adamses, Chancey, Cooper, Cushing, Hancock, Mayhew, Warren,
and the rest breathed their bracing atmosphere.

ENGLAND AND AMERICA.

I have already dwelt on the significance of the way in which the


Pilgrim Fathers, driven out of England, begin this compact, with
which they begin their life in this new world, with warm
professions of allegiance to England's King.

Old England, whose King and bishops drove them out, is proud of
them to-day, and counts them as truly her children as Shakespeare
and Milton and Vane.

As the American walks the corridors and halls of the Parliament


House at Westminster, he pays no great heed to the painted kings
upon the painted windows, and cares little for the gilded throne
in the gilded House of Lords. The Speaker's chair in the Commons
does not stir him most, nor the white form of Hampden that stands
silent at the door; but his heart beats fastest where, among
great scenes from English triumphs of the days of Puritanism and
the revolution, he sees the departure of the Pilgim Fathers to
found New England.

England will not let that scene go as a part of American history


only, but claims it now as one of the proudest scenes in her own
history, too.

It is a bud of promise, I said, when I first saw it there. Shall


not its full unfolding be some great reunion of the English race,
a prelude to the federation of the world?

Let that picture there in the Parliament House at Westminster


stay always in your mind, to remind you of the England in you.
Let the picture of the signing of the compact on the "Mayflower"
stay with it, to remind you of progress and greater freedom.
That, I take it, is what America--New England, now tempered by
New Germany, New Ireland, New France--that, I take it, is what
America stands for.--Edwin D. Mead.

THE UNIVERSITIES AND THE MEN OF THE REVOLUTION.

You may perhaps remember how Wendell Phillips, in his great


Harvard address on "The Scholar and the Republic" reproached some
men of learning for their conservatism and timidity, their
backwardness in reform. And it is true that conservatism and
timidity are never so hateful and harmful as in the scholar. "Be
bold, be bold, and evermore be bold," those words which Emerson
liked to quote, are words which should ever ring in the scholar's
ear.

But you must remember that Roger Williams and Sir Harry Vane, the
very men whom Wendell Phillips named as "two men deepest in
thought and bravest in speech of all who spoke English in their
day," came, the one from Cambridge, the other from Oxford; and
that Sam Adams and Jefferson, the two men whom he named as
preeminent, in the early days of the republic, for their trust in
the people, were the sons of Harvard and William and Mary. John
Adams and John Hancock and James Otis and Joseph Warren, the
great Boston leaders in the Revolution, were all Harvard men,
like Samuel Adams; and you will remember how many of the great
Virginians were, like Jefferson, sons of William and Mary.

And never was a revolution so completely led by scholars as the


great Puritan Revolution which planted New England and
established the English commonwealth.

No. Scholars have often enough been cowards and trimmers.

But from the days when Moses, learned in all the wisdom of the
Egyptians, brought his people up out of bondage, and Paul, who
had sat at the feet of Gamaliel, preached Christ, and Wyclif and
Luther preached Reformation, to the time when Eliot and Hampden
and Pym and Cromwell and Milton and Vane, all scholars of Oxford
and Cambridge, worked for English commonwealth, to the time of
Jefferson and Samuel Adams and the time of Emerson and Sumner and
Gladstone, scholars have been leaders and heroes too.--Edwin D.
Mead.

EARL PERCY AND YANKEE DOODLE.

Earl Percy was the son of the Duke of Northumberland. When he


was marching out of Boston, his band struck up the tune of Yankee
Doodle, in derision.

He saw a boy in Roxbury making himself very merry as he passed.

Percy inquired why he was so merry.

"To think," said the lad, "how you will dance by and by to Chevy
Chase."

Percy was much influenced by presentiments, and the words of the


boy made him moody. Percy was a lineal descendant of the Earl
Percy who was slain in the battle of Chevy Chase, and he felt all
day as if some great calamity might befall him.

STORY OF JAMES OTIS. FOR A SCHOOL OR CLUB PROGRAMME.

Each numbered paragraph is to be given to a pupil or member to


read, or to recite in a clear, distinct tone.

If the school or club is small, each person may take three or


four paragraphs, but should not be required to recite them in
succession.

1. James Otis was born in West Barnstable, near the center of


Massachusetts, February 5, 1725.

2. His ancestors were of English descent. The founder of the


family in America, John Otis, came from Hingham, in Norfolk,
England, and settled in Hingham, Massachusetts, in the year 1635.

3. His grandson, John Otis, was born in 1635. He removed from


Hingham to Barnstable, where he became a prominent man and held
several important positions. For eighteen years he was Colonel
of Militia, for twenty years Representative, for twenty-one years
member of the Council, for thirteen years Chief Justice of common
pleas, and Judge of Probate.

4. His two sons, John and James, became distinguished in public


life. James, the father of the subject of this sketch, was an
eminent lawyer. He, like his father, became Colonel of Militia,
Chief Justice of common pleas, and Judge of Probate.

5. James Otis, Jr. thus by inheritance, derived his legal bent


and love for political life.

6. His mother's name was Mary Allyne, or Alleyne, of


Wethersfield, Conn., daughter of Joseph Allyne, of Plymouth. She
was connected with the founders of Plymouth colony, who arrived
in the Mayflower in 1620.

7. James was the oldest of thirteen children, several of whom


died in infancy. Others lived to attain distinction.

8. He was fitted for College by the Rev. Jonathan Russell of


Barnstable, and was so industrious in his studies that he was
ready in his fifteenth year to enter as a freshman at Harvard in
June, 1739.

9. There is grave reason for believing that his excessive


devotion to study at this early period, had much to do with his
nervous and excitable condition in succeeding years.

10. "Make haste slowly" is the translation of a Latin motto,


which parents and teachers ought to observe in the education of
children.

11. Far better is it for the student to take time in making a


thorough preparation for the great work of life, than to rush
through his preparatory course at the great risk of health and
strength. Let him aim ever be to present "a sound mind in a
sound body."

12. James Otis was graduated from college in 1743, after


completing a four years successful course.

13. After graduation he wisely gave nearly two years to the


pursuits of general literature and science before entering upon
the law.

14. In this, he set a good example to the young men of the


present day, who are so strongly tempted to enter at once upon
professional life, without laying a broad and deep foundation for
future usefulness.

15. James Otis was very fond of the best poets, and "in the
zealous emulation of their beauties," says Dr. Magoon, "he
energized his spirit and power of expression.

16. "He did not merely read over the finest passages--he pondered
them--he fused them into his own soul, and reproduced their
charms with an energy all his own."

17. In 1745 he entered the law office of Jeremiah Gridley, in


Boston, who was then one of the most distinguished lawyers in the
country.

18. He began the practice of law in Plymouth, in 1748, but soon


found that he was "cabined, cribbed and confined" in the
opportunity to rise in such a small place.

19. In 1750 he removed to Boston, and there finding full scope


for his powers, soon rose to the foremost rank in his profession.

20. He justly won the high place so generally accorded him, by


his learning, his integrity, and his marvelous eloquence.

21. In acting successfully as counsel for the three men who were
accused of piracy in Halifax, he received a well earned fee,
which was the largest that had ever been paid to a Massachusetts
lawyer.

22. Like James A. Garfield, he kept up a lively interest in


classical studies during his entire professional career.

23. James Otis married Miss Ruth Cunningham, daughter of a Boston


merchant, early in 1755.

24. The marriage was not in all respects a happy one, partly on
account of political differences. While he became an ardent
patriot, she remained a staunch loyalist until her death on Nov.
15, 1789.

25. Another reason for the want of complete domestic felicity was
the peculiar character of his genius, which, so often glowing,
excitable and irregular, must have frequently demanded a home
forbearance almost miraculous.

26. The elder daughter, Elizabeth, married a Captain Brown of the


British army, and ended her days in England. 27. The younger
daughter, Mary, married Benjamin, the eldest son of the
distinguished General Lincoln.

28. In 1761, when he was thirty-six years of age his great


political career began, by his determined opposition to the
"Writs of Assistance."

29. He said with an eloquence that thrilled every heart, "A man's
house is his castle; and while he is quiet, he is as well guarded
as a prince in his castle. This Writ, if it should be declared
legal, would totally annihilate this privilege."

30. "I am determined to sacrifice estate, ease, health, applause


and even life, to the sacred calls of my country in opposition to
a kind of power, the exercise of which cost one king his head and
another his throne."

31. In 1762 he published a pamphlet entitled, "The Rights of the


Colonies Vindicated," which attracted great attention in England
for its finished diction and masterly arguments.

32. In this production he firmly took the unassailable position,


that in all questions relating to the expenditure of public
money, the rights of a Colonial Legislature were as sacred as the
rights of the House of Commons.

33. Some of the Parliamentary leaders in England spoke of the


work with contempt. Lord Mansfield, the great English legal
luminary, who had carefully read it, rebuked them for their
attitude towards it.

34. But they rejoined, as quoted by Bancroft, "The man is mad!"


"What then?" answered Mansfield. "One mad man often makes many.
Massaniello was mad--nobody doubted it--yet for all that he
overturned the government of Naples."

35. In June, 1765, Mr. Otis proposed the calling of a congress of


delegates from all the colonies to consider the Stamp Act.

36. In that famous Congress which met in October, 1765, in


New York, he was one of the delegates, and was appointed on the
committee to prepare an address to the Commons of England.

37. In 1767 he was elected Speaker of the Massachusetts Assembly.


Governor Bernard took a decidedly negative position against the
fiery orator, whom he feared as much as he did the intrepid Sam
Adams.

38. But Bernard could not put a padlock upon the lips of Otis.
When the king, who was greatly offended at the Circular Letter to
the colonies, which requested them to unite in measures for
redress demanded of Bernard to dismiss the Assembly unless it
should rescind its action, Otis made a flaming speech.

39. His adversaries said, "It was the most violent, abusive and
treasonable declaration that perhaps was ever uttered."

40. In the debate which ensued upon this royal order, Otis said:
"We are asked to rescind, are we? Let Great Britain rescind her
measures, or the colonies are lost to her forever."

41. Otis carried the House triumphantly with him, and it refused
to rescind by a vote of ninety-two to seventeen.

42. In the summer of 1769 he attacked some of the revenue


officers in an article in "The Boston Gazette." A few evenings
afterwards, while sitting in the British coffee-house in Boston,
he was savagely assaulted by a man named Robinson, who struck him
on the head with a heavy cane or sword.

43. The severe wound which was produced so greatly aggravated the
mental disease which had before been somewhat apparent, that his
reason rapidly forsook him.

44. Otis obtained a judgment of L2,000 against Robinson for the


attack, but when the penitent officer made a written apology for
his irreparable offense, the sufferer refused to take a penny.

45. In 1771 he was elected to the legislature, and sometimes


afterward appeared in court and in the town meeting, but found
himself unable to take part in public business.

46. In June, 1775, while living in a state of harmless insanity


with his sister, Mercy Warren, at Watertown, Mass., he heard,
according to Appleton's "Cyclopedia of American Biography," the
rumor of battle. On the 17th he slipped away unobserved,
"borrowed a musket from some farmhouse by the roadside, and
joined the minute men who were marching to the aid of the troops
on Bunker Hill."

47. "He took an active part in that battle, and after it was
over made his way home again after midnight."

48. The last years of his life were spent at the residence of
Mr. Osgood in Andover. For a brief season it seemed as though
his reason was restored. He even undertook a case in the Court
of Common Pleas in Boston, but found himself unequal to the
exertion demanded of him.

49. He had been persuaded to dine with Governor Hancock and some
other friends. "But the presence of his former friends and the
revived memories of previous events, gave a great shock to his
broken mind." He was persuaded to go back at once to the
residence of Mr. Osgood.

50. After his mind had become unsettled he said to Mrs. Warren,
"My dear sister, I hope, when God Almighty in his righteous
providence shall take me out of time into eternity, that it will
be by a flash of lightning," and this wish he often repeated.

51. Six weeks exactly after his return, on May 23, 1783, while
standing in the side doorway during a thunder-shower, with his
cane in his hand, and telling the assembled family a story, he
was struck by lightning and instantly killed. Not one of the
seven or eight persons in the room was injured. "No mark of any
kind could be found on Otis, nor was there the slightest change
or convulsion on his features."

52. His remains were brought to Boston and interred in the


Granary Burying Ground with every mark of respect, a great
number of the citizens attending his funeral.

53. James Otis sowed the seeds of liberty in this new world
without living to see the harvest, and probably without ever
dreaming what magnificent crops would be produced.

54. When the usurpations of un-English parliamentarians and their


allies at home, became as burdensome, as they were unjust he
defended his countrymen, in whose veins flowed the best of
English blood, with an eloquence whose ultimate influence
transcended his own sublime aspirations.

55. He taught, in the ominous words, which King James's first


House of Commons addressed to the House of Lords, immediately
after the monarch had been lecturing them on his own prerogative,
that "There may be a People without a king;, but there can be no
king without a people."

56. "Fortunately for civil liberty in England and America, in all


countries and in all times," as Edward Everett Hale says, "none
of the Stuarts ever learned in time what this ominous sentence
means--ot James I, the most foolish of them, nor Charles I, the
most false; nor Charles II, the most worthless; nor James II, the
most obstinate."

57. It could be said of Otis as Coleridge said of O'Connell, "See


how triumphant in debate and action he is. And why? Because he
asserts a broad principle, acts up to it, rests his body upon it,
and has faith in it."

PROGRAMME FOR A JAMES OTIS EVENING.

1. Music 2. Vocal Music--"Remember the Maine." 3. Essay--


"The True Relation of England as a Nation to the Colonies." 4.
Vocal or Instrumental Music. 5. Essay--"Writs of Assistance,
and Otis' Relation to Them." 6. Music. 7. A Stereopticon
Lecture, illustrating the Famous Buildings and noted features of
Boston--The Old North Church, The Old South, Copp's Hill, Bunker
Hill, North Square, House of Paul Revere, Site of the Old Dragon
Inn, The Old State House, Faneuil Hall, etc. 8. Singing--
"America."

QUESTIONS FOR REVIEW.

Where is the Granary Burying Ground? Why so named? What


distinguishes it? Can you give the names of some eminent persons
buried there? In what tomb was James Otis interred? What
interesting particular was noted when his body was disinterred?

What names are given to the pre-revolutionists, the


revolutionists, and the post-revolutionists?

Who is assigned the first place among the protagonists of


freedom? Who the second? What is the remarkable thing about the
lives of many great men? Will you expand the thought?

When and where was James Otis born? What offices did he fill?
When was James Otis, Jr. born? What did he inherit from his
father and grandfather? What were transmitted to other members
of the family? Give the name of one of these members and her
peculiar gifts. What was the name of one of the brothers, and
what is said of him?

By whom was James Otis prepared for College? When did he enter
College? What is the tradition concerning him? What is said of
his College course? What of his excitable temperament? What
anecdote is recorded of him? When, and under what distinguished
lawyer did he begin his legal studies? What is said of his
preceptor?

When and where did he begin to practice law? What are some of
the incidents of his early legal career? What is said of the
defense by Otis of citizens in connection with the anniversary of
the Gunpowder Plot? What is the history of the Gunpowder Plot?
When was the first period of his Boston practice? What is said
of the non-preservation of the legal pleas and addresses of James
Otis? What does tradition say of him as an orator?

When and whom did Otis marry? What is said of the Cunnningham
family? What is said of Mrs. Otis? Who comprised the family of
Mr. and Mrs. Otis? What is said of the marriage of the elder
daughter? What of the younger daughter?

When was the second period in James Otis's life? What is said of
him as a rising man? What is said of his scholastic and literary
pursuits, etc.? What works did he compose? What did James Otis
say about the bad literary tastes of the boys of his time?

Of what is every man the joint product? What were the conditions
under which the colonial settlements were formed? What were the
feelings of the colonists towards England?

What specific conditions in the development of the colonies may


be noted? What were the immediate and forceful causes towards
revolution? What is said of the Navigation Act? of the
Importation Act? What kind of a question was that at issue?
Why?

What is said of the seaboard towns? of the traffic with the West
Indies? What period did the epoch of evasion cover? What is said
of the iron and steel industry? of ship building?

What did Hutchinson say of his own Appointment? What were some
of the personal forces at work? What is said of Hutchinson and
others? What slander of James Otis was current? In what
language was the case regarding the Writs of Assistance made up?
What is said of the trial of the case? Who was one of the
eminent spectators? What was the relation of Otis to it?

What did Chief Justice Hutchinson advise in the case of the Writs
of Assistance? What is the story narrated of Otis regarding his
want of self-control?

What is said of the controversy between Hutchinson and Otis?


What resolution did Otis offer in 1762? What is said of his
pamphlet on "The Vindication of the Conduct of the House of
Representatives," etc.? What is said of the Treaty of Paris?
What of the feelings of Americans towards the mother country?
What of the utterances of Otis?

What did the Americans claim? What was the reply of Parliament?
What is said of the Sugar Act? What of Otis' relations to
Lieut.-Governor Hutchinson? Of his relations to the Sugar Act
and Stamp Act? Of his relation to an Intercolonial conference?
What was Franklin's opinion of this conference? What is the
substance of Mr. Otis' letter to the provincial agent? Of Lord
Mansfield's view of it?

SUBJECTS FOR SPECIAL STUDY. 1. The French and Indian War. 2.


James Otis as an Orator. 3. The English Colonies in America.
4. The Influence of College Men in Public Life. 5. How the
American Colonies Grew Together. 6. The Commercial Causes of
the Revolution. 7. The Political Causes of the Revolution. 8.
Otis Compared with Samuel Adams. 9. The Repeal of the Stamp Act.

CHRONOLOGICAL TABLE IN THE LIFE OF JAMES OTIS.

1725 Born in West Barnstable, Massachusetts, Feb. 5.


1739 Entered Harvard College, June.
1743 Was graduated from Harvard.
1745 Begins the study of law.
1748 Begins the practice of law at Plymouth, Massachusetts.
1750 Removes to Boston.
1755 Marries Miss Ruth Cunningham.
1760 Publishes "Rudiments of Latin Prosody."
1761 Opposes the "Writs of Assistance."
1762 Publishes "The Rights of the Colonies Vindicated."
1765 Moves resolution for Congress of Delegates to consider "The
Stamp Act," June.
Attends the Congress called to consider "The Stamp Act" in New
York, and appointed on the committee to prepare address to
Parliament, October.
1767 Elected Speaker of the Massachusetts Assembly.
1769 Attacked and severely injured by Robinson.
1771 Elected to the legislature of Massachusetts.
1775 Participates in the Battle of Bunker Hill, June 17.
1778 Pleads case before court in Boston
1783 Killed by stroke of lightning at Andover, Mass., May 23.

BIBLIOGRAPHY.

For those who wish to read extensively, the following works are
especially commended:

Library of American Biography. Jared Sparks. Vol. 2. Boston


Charles C. Little and James Brown. 1846.

Life of James Otis. By William Tudor.

Orators of the American Revolution. E. L. Magoon.

"Otis Papers." In Collection of Massachusetts Historical Society,


Boston, 1897.

"Life of James Otis." By Francis Bowen, in Sparks' American


Biography. Vol. XII Boston. 1846.
Cyclopedia of American Biography. D. Appleton & Co. New York.

American Law Register. Vol. 3, page 641.

North American Review. Vol. 16, page 337. J. C. Gray.

"The Old South Leaflets," prepared by Edwin D. Mead. D. C. Heath


& Co., Boston, Publishers.

DeToqueville's Democracy in America.

Works of John Fiske.

Ridpath's History of the United States.

Ellis' History of the United States.

End Project Gutenberg Etext of James Otis The Pre-Revolutionist

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